Florida prosecutors announced Wednesday that a grand jury indicted former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja on charges of manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm for the shooting death of 31-year-old Corey Jones.
The charges come seven months after Jones, a well-known area musician, was shot and killed in the early morning hours of Oct. 18, 2015, while he waited for a tow truck after his car broke down on an Interstate 95 off-ramp. Jones was armed at the time with a weapon he had purchased legally just three days earlier when he was approached by Raja, a plainclothes officer in an unmarked car.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced Wednesday that a grand jury concluded Raja’s use of force was unjustified. Documents released Wednesday allege that Raja never identified himself to Jones as a police officer as he drove up to the stranded motorist, yelled commands and then opened fire.
“The grand jury today found that the use of force by Mr. Raja was unjustified,” Aronberg said. “Mr. Raja has been arrested and taken into custody.”
After the shooting, Palm Beach police officials said that Raja believed he was investigating an abandoned vehicle when he was suddenly confronted by an armed man. However, for the months that the case has been under investigation, it has remained unclear whether Raja announced himself as an officer or what other words were exchanged between the men prior to the shooting.
Charging documents released Wednesday by prosecutors state that: According to an audio recording of the interaction, at no point did Raja identify himself to Jones as a police officer; he was not wearing his tactical vest identifying himself as a police officer; and Raja’s vehicle was not immediately distinguishable as a police vehicle. Prosecutors say Raja drove his unmarked van the wrong way down the interstate off-ramp in order to confront Jones about 3:15 a.m.
“A reasonable person can only assume the thoughts and concerns Corey Jones was experiencing as he saw the van approaching him at that hour of the morning,” prosecutors wrote in the charging documents. “Raja stopped his van at a perpendicular angle directly in front of Jones’s vehicle. … At no time during the recording did Raja say he was a police officer.”
According to the transcript included in the charging documents, Raja asked Jones several times if he was “good,” before transitioning to demanding he put his hands in the air.
Raja: You good?
Jones: I’m good.
Jones: Yeah, I’m good.
Raja: Get your f—ing hands up! Get your f—ing hands up!
Jones: Hold on!
Raja: Get your f—ing hands up! Drop!
Then, according to the documents, Raja fired three shots in rapid succession, prompting an AT&T call center operator who had been on the phone with Jones as he waited for the tow truck to exclaim “Oh my gosh!” Then, 10 seconds later, Raja fired three more shots.
Prosecutors say that Raja then called 911, about 30 seconds after firing his last round.
“I came out, I saw him come out with a handgun,” Raja told the 911 dispatcher. “I gave him commands, I identified myself, and he turned, pointed the gun at me and started running. I shot him.”
When other officers arrived at the scene, they found Jones’s body about 192 feet away from his car. Jones’s gun was found between him and the car, about 72 feet away from the vehicle.
Jones was one of 990 people fatally shot by police officers in 2015, according to a Washington Post database tracking such incidents. Raja becomes just the 12th officer charged in connection to a fatal police shooting that occurred in 2015, and is the only officer charged in connection to a shooting in which the person killed was allegedly armed.
Jones’s family, in a statement issued through the law firm of civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, praised the prosecutor’s decision to bring charges.
“We were relieved to learn that officer Nouman Raja, who senselessly killed Corey Jones, was arrested earlier today and will face criminal charges for his reckless act. While we understand that nothing can bring back our son, brother and friend, this arrest sends a message that this conduct will not be tolerated from members of law enforcement,” the statement said. “Our goal now as a family is to ensure that this never happens to another innocent citizen. In spite of this news, our hearts are heavy. We lost a wonderful soul. But rather than focus on the reprehensible actions of one police officer, today we choose to celebrate Corey’s life.”
Rep. Patrick E. Murphy (D-Fla.), who has introduced body camera and police data collection legislation in response to Jones’s death, also praised the decision to bring charges against Raja.
“Today’s indictment of former officer Nouman Raja demonstrates that no one is above the law,” Murphy said in a statement. “It is also an important step forward for our community to begin to heal and to restore trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. While nothing will bring Corey back, I hope today’s action brings some peace to his loved ones as we continue to honor his life by working together to prevent future tragedies such as this.”
This developing story that will be updated. First published: 3:30pm