The family of a Black teenager who was falsely accused of stealing a woman’s cellphone in a New York City hotel last December filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that the woman and the hotel engaged in racial profiling.
The family alleges in the lawsuit filed in state court in Manhattan that Keyon Harrold Jr. was “violently accosted” by Miya Ponsetto on Dec. 26 in the lobby of the Arlo Hotel and that hotel manager Chad Nathan helped her and demanded that the teenager turn over his phone for inspection.
"This is racial profiling 101 America," said civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the family, at a press conference in Lower Manhattan Wednesday.
The boy's father, Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold, and mother were at the press conference Wednesday, with the mother saying the incident has had its effects on her son.
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"To be accused of theft when you've never stolen anything in your life, and then be attacked for something you haven't done, has an impact," the teen's mother Kat Rodriguez said Wednesday.
"I can't hug my son from the back without him cringing. He actually asked me not to affectionately touch his back or shoulders for a while. He doesn't want to visit hotels," she said previously, adding: "He asked us why. He started therapy. This has absolutely traumatized him."
Paul D’Emilia, an attorney for Ponsetto, said in an email that Ponsetto is at home in California and has not been informed of any lawsuit.
A video of Ponsetto’s confrontation with the then-14-year-old was recorded and posted online by his father. The video shows an agitated woman demanding the teenager’s phone and accusing him of stealing it.
Security video released by police shows Ponsetto grabbing at Harrold as he tries to get away from her through the hotel’s front door.
“Defendants treated Plaintiffs differently from other guests and invitees in a place of public accommodation because of their race,” the lawsuit states.
Ponsetto, 22, of Piru, California, was arrested two weeks afterward on charges of attempted robbery, grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child and two counts of attempted assault, according to police. She's due in court March 29 for the criminal charges she faces.
In addition to Ponsetto and Nathan and the Arlo Soho LLC, the suit names Quadrum Hospitality Group LLC and 2REN LLC as defendants. Messages seeking comment were left with the hotel and the corporate entities.
In a statement provided to News 4 New York earlier this year, Arlo Hotels said: "We’re deeply disheartened about the recent incident of baseless accusation, prejudice and assault against an innocent guest of Arlo hotel. In investigating the incident further, we’ve learned that the manager on duty promptly called the police regarding the woman’s conduct and that hotel security intervened to prevent further violence; still, more could have been done to de-escalate the dispute."