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Keyon Harrold Involved in Racially Charged Incident

As captured on Instagram and surveillance videos, the trumpeter defended his son against assault and a baseless accusation of theft in a New York hotel

Keyon Harrold at the 2019 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Keyon Harrold at the 2019 Montreal International Jazz Festival (photo: Sharonne Cohen)

UPDATE 1/2/2021: Miya Ponsetto, 22, of Simi Valley, Calif., has been positively identified by the New York Police Department as the alleged attacker of Keyon Harrold and his son at New York’s Arlo Hotel on December 26. Since the incident, she has apparently returned to California, as she was spotted by a photographer on New Year’s Day outside a McDonald’s near her mother’s home in Piru, Calif. Arrested twice in 2020 for public intoxication and driving under the influence, Ponsetto now faces charges of assault, grand larceny, and attempted robbery.

UPDATE 12/31/2020: The woman accused of assault by Keyon Harrold and his family was contacted by CNN on December 29 and gave a 20-minute telephone interview, in which she claimed that she was assaulted herself but provided no corroborating evidence. She expressed willingness to speak with investigators and the Harrold family but had not done so at the time of the interview. The news network has declined to provide her name due to unspecified “security concerns.” Subsequently released video of the December 26 incident from two of the Arlo Hotel’s surveillance cameras clearly shows a woman tackling Keyon Harrold Jr. from behind and swiping at the elder Harrold as he rushes to his son’s aid. On December 30, Harrold and his son’s mother, musician and teacher Kat Rodriguez, spoke at a news conference and rally in New York’s City Hall Park, along with civil-rights attorney Ben Crump and the Rev. Al Sharpton. All parties demanded that New York City Attorney General Cyrus Vance Jr. take action against the woman. A petition repeating this demand has gathered more than 70,000 signatures online to date.

A widely shared and discussed Instagram video shows a December 26 incident in which trumpeter Keyon Harrold and his 14-year-old son were falsely accused of stealing a woman’s phone.

The incident is one more in an ongoing rash of viral documents showing African Americans apparently being profiled and accused without evidence of crimes.

The video, shot by the elder Harrold in the lobby of the Arlo Hotel in Manhattan’s SoHo district, shows the woman standing with a man who identifies himself as the hotel manager. Harrold’s son, off camera, indicates that a mobile phone apparently under discussion is his own before the woman identifies it as hers by its case and demands that the youth show her proof that it is not hers.

“You don’t have to explain nothing to her,” Harrold says to his son, refusing to allow either the woman or the manager to see the phone.

The manager, without asking if the woman has any cause to suspect the boy has taken her phone, also demands that he relinquish it. “Didn’t you just see me just come downstairs out of the fucking elevator?” Harrold asks the manager. “You’re not helping, what you’re being is disrespectful. … My son has nothing to do with her.”

When the Harrolds walk away, the woman pursues them. When a security guard asks her to stop, she shouts, “No! I’m not letting him walk away with my phone!” She then physically attacks them as the video ends.

“This incident went on for five more minutes,” Harrold wrote on the Instagram post. “She scratched me; she Tackled and grabbed him. He is a child!!!” He notes that shortly after the events captured in the video, an Uber driver found and returned the woman’s phone.

“No apology from her after this traumatic situation to my son, not me. No apologies from the establishment,” Harrold wrote. (The hotel has since issued a statement of apology.) He told The New York Times that he was moving out of the hotel, where he had been staying since mid-December.

Harrold has no further information about the identity of the woman, although he has asked for any leads. At the same time, however, he urged caution in a follow-up Instagram post.

“We are hurt and saddened but we are not people who want anyone to be falsely accused or want to ruin someone’s life,” he wrote. “Let’s be mindful and spread love through this hatefulness. We will share the guilty party when we properly ID them. Until then, please do to others as you would want them to do to you.”

The Manhattan district attorney’s office and the New York Police Department are currently investigating the incident, according to spokespeople. Yesterday (Dec. 28), the Harrolds’ attorney Ben Crump took to Twitter and called on the DA to bring charges of assault and battery against the woman. The Arlo has since acknowledged that she had been a hotel guest earlier in the week, but has declined to identify her publicly.