Support Independent Journalism. Donate today!

A White Woman Was Caught On Tape Selling Heroin, But Police Arrested A Black Woman Instead

In a case of mistaken identity, Jada Noone was arrested by Pennsylvania State Police, spent 15 days in jail and faced a felony drug case before charges were dismissed. She’s now suing over her false arrest.

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo by Sean McKeag/AP images.

On May 30, 2017, Jada Noone was arrested and transported to Luzerne County Jail in Pennsylvania.

She spent the next 15 days there before being released and another year facing criminal charges of felony possession with intent to deliver stemming from the arrest by State Trooper Scott Hawley.

In an affidavit of probable cause, Hawley wrote that on May 23, 2016, Pennsylvania State Police set up a heroin buy with Noone’s then-boyfriend Akee Miller. An undercover trooper went to meet with Miller in Wilkes-Barre to purchase the drugs, but Miller sent a woman to conduct the transaction. A white woman was captured on a hidden camera delivering drugs to the trooper. Hawley said he positively identified the woman as Noone.

But there was a significant problem with the case: Noone is Black.

On June 11, 2018, the local district attorney’s office dropped the charges.

“The worst part about all of this is that Trooper Hawley had the video for a full year before Jada was even arrested,” Theron Solomon, who represented Noone at the end of her criminal case and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Noone’s behalf against Hawley, told The Appeal.

Clashing physical descriptions

Beyond the issue of arresting a person of the wrong race, the lawsuit against Hawley alleges that the white woman in the video has crooked teeth, while Noone’s teeth are straight, and that the woman in the video has a chest tattoo. Noone does not have a chest tattoo..

In a December 2018 response to Noone’s complaint, state Deputy Attorney General Daniel Gallagher wrote that it’s not possible to discern if the tattoo seen in the video was permanent or if Noone had a tattoo removed. He also wrote that there is no evidence that Noone did not have dental work done since the video was recorded in 2016 which would account for the difference in teeth. Gallagher even demanded proof that Noone is Black.

“It’s beyond absurd, it’s scary to think that any one of us is vulnerable to something like this because they just felt like she was the girl,” Solomon said.

An excerpt from Noone’s lawsuit.

High bail for drug possession in Pennsylvania

Bail in Noone’s case was set at $75,000, although she had no criminal convictions in the state nor a history of failing to appear for any court proceedings.

High bail amounts, especially for felony drug possession, are becoming the norm in many Pennsylvania counties.

The Appeal reviewed all criminal dockets filed in Luzerne County in 2017 and found that half of all people charged with felony possession with intent to deliver had cash bail set at $75,000 or higher.

In that same year, the median bail in Pennsylvania’s two largest counties—Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia County—was only $10,000 for people charged with felony possession with intent to deliver.

“This is why the system is broken,” Solomon said. “They give her this high bail that she can’t possibly make.”

On June 15, 2017, Noone was released on unsecured bail after she waived her preliminary hearing, the initial evidentiary hearing in Pennsylvania that occurs before the district attorney’s office generally becomes involved with a case.

Solomon said the state made an offer to Noone’s attorneys to have her bail reduced if she waived the hearing and sent the case to the trial court.

Noone was represented by the Luzerne County public defenders office, which would not have had the video from the arrest because discovery is generally not turned over to the defendant until later in the process, Solomon said.

“She was adamant that it wasn’t her, but because she didn’t want to be in jail, she waived her hearing,” Solomon said. “That’s a real problem with the system itself. This woman is put in a position to fight and stand tall and stay in jail, or roll over and we’ll let you out.”

“I don’t see how the district attorney could have gone to trial with a straight face,” he said

The unidentified woman caught on video involved in an alleged heroin sale (above), Noone (below). Photo courtesy of Barry Dyller.

Woman in video still elusive

On July 17, 2018, Miller pleaded guilty to felony possession with intent to deliver and felony carrying a firearm without a license in connection to the Noone case. He was later sentenced to approximately two years in jail followed by seven years’ probation.

Although Solomon said he was able to identify the woman in the hidden camera video through internet searches, she has yet to be charged.

Pennsylvania State Police spokesperson Ryan Tarkowski declined to comment about the case because of Noone’s lawsuit.