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Famed jazz musician says son was racially profiled, falsely accused of stealing phone

A video shared by jazz musician Keyon Harrold shows a woman accusing his 14-year-old son of stealing an iPhone that he said was later found by an Uber driver.
/ Source: TODAY

A prominent jazz musician says his son was a victim of racial profiling during an incident at a New York City hotel in which a woman is seen on camera aggressively accusing the teen of stealing her iPhone.

Famed trumpeter Keyon Harrold, who is Black, shared a minute-long video on Instagram Saturday that he shot of an unidentified woman claiming her iPhone was stolen by his 14-year-old son, Keyon Harrold Jr.

"I am furious!!!" he wrote on Instagram. "We see this crap happening all the time, but it hits different when it hits home!!! I typically try to keep things positive, but nothing about this video is positive."

Harrold wrote that the woman's phone was found in an Uber just after their encounter in the lobby of the Arlo SoHo, a boutique hotel in Manhattan.

The video, which has been viewed more than 1.4 million times, shows the woman badgering Harrold while standing behind the hotel's manager.

"Take the case off, that's mine," she says. "Literally give it back."

"Are you kidding me?" the elder Harrold says. "You think there’s one iPhone made in the world?"

"Then show me," the woman says.

"No, get a life!"

The hotel's manager can then be heard addressing security nearby, though his direction is inaudible.

When Harrold seems to walk away, the woman follows. A scuffle appears to ensue as the woman yells, "I'm not letting him walk away with my phone!"

"I tried to tell her as best as I could, you know, that ... he doesn't have your phone," Harrold said on TODAY Tuesday. "She basically tackled my son trying to reach in his pocket, reach in my pocket."

The widely-viewed footage triggered outrage on social media, including a tweet by New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

"This is racism. Plain and simple," he wrote. "It would be horrific at any age, but it’s especially offensive that it happened to a child. To Keyon Harrold Jr. and his family: I am so sorry this happened to you. Her behavior was an affront to our city’s values."

NBC News was unable to identify the woman and does not know what took place prior or after the video being taken. Harrold said he was told by the hotel she was not a guest at the Arlo SoHo at the time, having checked out Dec. 23, three days before the incident.

The hotel released a statement that said in part "more could have been done to de-escalate the dispute" and apologized to Harrold and his son for "this inexcusable experience." The hotel also said the manager on duty promptly called police regarding the woman's conduct.

Harrold is now working with attorney Ben Crump, who is calling for a civil rights investigation into the hotel.

"We can't have this double standard in America, where young Black people are guilty until proven innocent," Crump said on TODAY Tuesday.

The boy's mother, musician and singer Kat Rodriguez, followed up with an Instagram post Sunday explaining the reason the family decided to share the initial video.

"The only reason we decided to go public and post on social media was because the hotel which had a security guard on duty let this young lady leave while waiting for the police to respond after she assaulted my son several times which is not seen on this video because my sons father dropped the phone to protect our son!" she wrote. "The police came and filed a report and said we would have to wait 3 days. The hotel just went about their business after basically sweeping it under the rug with an 'sorry this happened to you'. Not until they were faced with scrutiny through social media did they answer a post on Instagram.

"We are hurt and saddened but we are not people who want anyone to be falsely accused or want to ruin someone’s life. 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 Arlo SoHo did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment about Rodriguez's claims.

When contacted via email by NBC News, the New York Police Department confirmed a complaint report is on file for harassment, but did not indicate whether it is investigating an assault. The Manhattan district attorney's office said it is "thoroughly investigating the incident."

This follows the incident in New York City's Central Park in May, when Amy Cooper, a white woman, called 911 and falsely accused birdwatcher Christian Cooper, who is Black, of attacking her after a brief verbal dispute. Amy Cooper issued a public apology to Christian Cooper, calling the incident "unacceptable." She was charged with making a false report.