The Manhattan district attorney’s office is investigating an ugly confrontation inside a Soho hotel where a woman falsely accused a Black teenager of stealing her iPhone and lunged at him, the DA’s office told Intelligencer on Monday. On Tuesday, the NYPD said detectives have identified the woman and are prepared to charge her with assault among other crimes.
On Saturday, jazz musician Keyon Harrold and his 14-year-old son were staying at the Arlo hotel when they were confronted by an unidentified woman in the lobby. Harrold started recording video of the incident that showed the woman screaming at Harrold’s son, accusing him of stealing her phone, and asking a man who identified himself as a hotel manager to take the phone from the teenager. “Take the case off that’s mine. Literally get it back,” she tells the manager. Harrold responded as they moved through the lobby, “You think there’s only one iPhone made in the world?” The woman followed, then allegedly tackled Harrold’s son.
Harrold’s video went viral over the weekend, racking up over 1.8 million views on Instagram alone. Harrold’s attorney, Ben Crump, said the family wants the woman charged with assault and battery.
Harrold told the New York Times he believes he and his son, who are both Black, were racially profiled by the woman. The hotel told the Times it had called police during the incident. Harrold said on Instagram that the hotel told him the woman’s missing phone was dropped off by an Uber driver soon after the confrontation.
“No apology from her after this traumatic situation to my son, not me. No apologies from the establishment. This shit happens so often. It needs to stop!!!” Harrold wrote on Instagram on Sunday. (The hotel later apologized.)
Harrold, 40, is a jazz trumpeter who has performed with Common, Jay Z, Beyoncé, and Rihanna, and won a Grammy Award for music he performed in a 2015 Miles Davis biopic starring Don Cheadle.
NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison said during a regularly scheduled press conference on Tuesday that police obtained security camera footage from the hotel that will likely lead to serious charges. “We’re now looking to charge this individual with assault and maybe even look at grand larceny or maybe even attempted robbery,” Harrison said. A department spokesperson told Gothamist the incident is not being investigated as a hate crime and that police have identified the woman.
On Tuesday, Keyon Harrold Jr. and his parents spoke to Good Morning America, where the teen said he initially was “confused because I’ve never seen that lady ever and I didn’t know what to do at the moment.”
The incident recalls a similar notorious confrontation this past spring where Amy Cooper, a white woman, falsely accused a Black bird-watcher in Central Park of threatening her life during a 911 call. Cooper was charged by the Manhattan D.A.’s office with filing a false police report. She has not yet entered a plea.
The Cooper incident popularized the term “Karen” — a white woman accused of weaponizing her racial privilege by invoking the authorities — which Crump said fit the bill for this particular woman. “We want charges because we have to send a message because this has larger society implications,” Crump told GMA. “Think about how many Black men have been falsely accused by these Karens and they end up losing their liberty and losing their life sitting in prison.”
Victoria Bekiempis contributed reporting.