Watch CBS News

Family of Black teen falsely accused of stealing woman's phone sues his accuser

get the free app
Miya Ponsetto charged with attempted assault
Miya Ponsetto charged with attempted assault for apparent on-camera attack of teen in New York City 06:59

The family of a Black teenager who was falsely accused of stealing a woman's cellphone at a New York City hotel is suing his accuser and the hotel where the incident occurred. Miya Ponsetto, 22, is also facing criminal charges in the case.

On December 26, 2020, Ponsetto falsely accused 14-year-old Keyon Harrold Jr. in the lobby of Manhattan's Arlo Hotel. The teen's father recorded the incident on his cellphone. The cellphone and surveillance video from the hotel appear to show Ponsetto physically attacking Harrold Jr. in an attempt to get her phone back. Her phone was returned soon afterward by an Uber driver who found it in their vehicle.

Ponsetto, the Arlo Hotel and Chad Nathan, a manager at the hotel, are among the defendants listed in the lawsuit, which alleges that Ponsetto and Nathan engaged in racial profiling and accuses the hotel of negligence. 

According to the lawsuit, Nathan "detained the plaintiffs and demanded that Keyon Harrold Jr. surrender his cellphone."

"Defendants treated plaintiffs differently from other guests and invitees in a place of public accommodation because of their race ... The only difference between plaintiffs Keyon Harrold and Keyon Harrold Jr. and the other guests who were not targeted by defendants Chad Nathan and Miya Ponsetto was the color of their skin," the lawsuit states, claiming the defendants violated New York City's Human Rights Law that prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, housing and employment.

At a Wednesday press conference announcing the lawsuit, Harrold Jr.'s mother, Kat Rodriguez, said, "It might seem small to you, but the incident that happened on December 26 could've been deescalated before our son was attacked. The incident could've been prevented by the Arlo Hotel."

Attorney Paul Napoli said that "there was a lack of training to [the hotel's] security. This is not how security is supposed to operate. There was a lack of training to the management. And so, if you're operating a hotel in New York City, you need to be aware of the Human Rights Law."

"This is a test, New York. Will you back this law up?" Rodriguez said at the press conference.

Parents of the teen who Miya Ponsetto falsely accused say her arrest is the first step for justice 06:22

Paul D'Emilia, an attorney representing Ponsetto in her criminal case, told CBS News that he did not know if Ponsetto has hired an attorney to represent her in the civil lawsuit and added, "Ms. Ponsetto remains at her home in California and has not been informed of any pending civil lawsuit in which she has been named."

Ponsetto was arrested in her home state of California on January 7 and extradited to New York. She is facing charges of attempted assault, attempted robbery, grand larceny and acting in a manner injurious to a child. 

Hours before her arrest, Ponsetto told "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King that she did not accuse Harrold Jr. because of his race. 

"I was approaching the people that had been exiting the hotel, because in my mind, anybody exiting is probably the one, might be the one, that is trying to steal my phone," Ponsetto said at the time. "I admit yes, I could have approached the situation differently, or maybe not yelled at him like that and made him feel, some sort of, inferior way, making him feel as if I was like, hurting his feelings because that's not my intention."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.