(CNN) — The California woman who falsely accused a Black teenager of stealing her cell phone and then attacked him in a New York City hotel lobby pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment in the second degree as a hate crime, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced.
In December 2020, Miya Ponsetto was seen on video attacking 14-year old Keyon Harrold Jr., who was with his father, a musician, in the Arlo Hotel. Ponsetto said she thought he had her cell phone, but investigators later determined he did not.
Video of the incident quickly went viral, with many accusing Ponsetto of racially profiling the teen, an accusation she has denied. The incident also occurred as continued calls for racial justice and police reform were the highest they’d been in years due to the deaths of Black people — like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — at the hands of law enforcement officials.
The plea deal requires Ponsetto, 23, to follow the probation terms for a separate case in California, attend counseling and avoid further criminal incidents.
If she doesn’t comply, Ponsetto could go to prison for up to four years, prosecutors said. But if she successfully follows those terms, she can re-plead the felony charge to a misdemeanor charge of aggravated harassment in the second degree.
Ponsetto’s attorney, Paul D’Emilia, said his client is grateful for the plea deal, and she has been “leading an exemplary life” since the incident.
“We are appreciative of the District Attorney’s thoughtful and empathetic approach to finding an acceptable conclusion, especially in light of the unreasonable pressure brought to bear by many voices not familiar with the more granular details of what occurred that evening,” D’Emilia said. “Ms. Ponsetto looks forward to her eventual final plea to the harassment charge, a plea that we feel more realistically reflects her actions that night at the Arlo Hotel. It is Ms. Ponsetto’s wish that Keyon Harrold accepts her regrets and apology for her behavior that evening, and that all involved can move forward with added insight and compassion.”
District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Ponsetto “displayed outrageous behavior.”
“As a Black man, I have personally experienced racial profiling countless times in my life and I sympathize with the young man victimized in this incident,” Bragg said. “This plea ensures appropriate accountability for Ms. Ponsetto by addressing underlying causes for her behavior and ensuring this conduct does not reoccur.”
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