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Miya Ponsetto charged with hate crime after falsely accusing Black teen of phone theft

Ponsetto pleaded not guilty on Wednesday. Her attorney Paul D'Emilia slammed the charges as "absurd."

The woman who falsely accused a Black teenager of stealing her phone in a New York City hotel in December was arraigned Wednesday on a hate crime.

Miya Ponsetto, who lives in California, was seen in a viral video lunging at, tackling and shouting that the 14-year-old son of jazz musician Keyon Harrold had stolen her iPhone. The incident took place Dec. 26 in the lobby of Arlo Soho, an upscale, boutique hotel where Harrold and his son, Keyon Harrold Jr., were guests. It was later found that Ponsetto left her phone in an Uber vehicle, and the driver eventually returned it to her.

Earlier this year, she was charged with attempted robbery, grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child and two counts of attempted assault.

On Wednesday, Ponsetto was indicted by a New York County grand jury on two counts of unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, aggravated harassment, and endangering the welfare of a child. She pleaded not guilty.

Paul D'Emilia, Ponsetto's attorney, slammed the charges as "absurd" and said District Attorney Cy Vance chose a "craven and opportunistic path in indicting" his client.

"Today marked another low point in out-going Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's checkered administration," D'Emilia said in a statement.

"The charges alleged are a brazen and clear overreach of the intent of the statute. In sum, they are absurd, and a perversion of our legal system. As truly violent criminals maraud and run rampant through New York City, this DA exhibits zero interest in law-enforcement and prosecution. Instead, he turns his prosecutorial fury on a distraught and panicked young woman stranded without her lifeline, her phone, thousands of miles from home. Shameful."

The teen's father shared a minute-long video of the encounter to his social media. In it, Ponsetto is seen accosting Harrold and his son, yelling, “Show me my phone!” as she follows them in the hotel lobby.

Security camera footage later showed a 10-second clip where Ponsetto appears to put her arms around the teenage boy in an attempt to tackle him to the ground.

The New York City Police Department said the father “sustained scratches to his hand.” No other injuries were reported.

Ventura County officers coordinated with the NYPD to arrest Ponsetto on a fugitive warrant in front of her home in Piru, California, in January. Officers forcibly removed Ponsetto from a vehicle, saying she resisted arrest, refused to get out of the car and tried to slam a car door on one of the deputies, according to the Ventura County department.

Video of the encounter with the teen thrust Ponsetto into infamy on the internet, with many dubbing her the “SoHo Karen” and accusing her of racially profiling the boy.

Ponsetto denied any racial animus as a motivation for the incident during an interview with CBS “This Morning” host Gayle King in January. She admitted she could have handled the situation differently and apologized to the family “if I had made this son feel as I assaulted him or hurt his feelings.”

“Maybe not yelled at him like that, and made him feel, you know, some sort of, uh, inferior way, making him feel as if I was like, hurting his feelings — that's not my intention,” Ponsetto said at the time. “I consider myself to be super sweet.”

When pressed further by King, Ponsetto became defensive and alleged that the boy’s father assaulted her by pulling her hair and slamming her to the ground, a claim that NBC News has not been able to corroborate.

"The footage shows me attacking his son, attacking him how? Yelling at him, OK, I apologize. Can we move on?" she said. "Basically I'm a 22-year-old girl. I am, I don't — racism — how is one girl accusing a guy about a phone a crime?"

The Harrold family filed a civil lawsuit against Ponsetto, the Arlo hotel and the hotel manager, alleging violations to New York State’s human rights laws, assault and infliction of emotional distress among other charges. They are represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has counseled the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Diana Dasrath contributed.