FORT LAUDERDALE — More than five months after his son’s death, Clinton Jones, Sr. still gets angry every time he hears someone say that police officers wouldn’t shoot if young black men would just follow the rules.
The angst in his voice cut through the sanctuary at the Fort Lauderdale Church of God in Christ Saturday morning, where he interrupted the first public panel discussion his family attorneys have organized since his son Corey Jones was killed by a now-fired Palm Beach Gardens police officer.
“I’ve been following the rules for 58 years as a black man in America,” he told the crowd of a few dozen. “The incident that happened to my son, he didn’t have an opportunity to obey any rules. I’m angry, I’m mad and I want to know how can an officer get off when he does something like that?”
The panelists, which included Jones family attorney Kweku Darfoor and McCray’s Backyard Bar-B-Que owner Derrick McCray, had answers for the Jones family but warned that it may not be what they want to hear.
FULL COVERAGE: Corey Jones shooting
Echoing the sentiments on many attorneys in South Florida’s legal community after Jones’ death made national news, the panelists agreed that statistics on officer-involved shooting make it appear unlikely that former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja will even face criminal charges — let alone be convicted — of any criminal wrongdoing in the popular drummer’s Oct. 18 death.
In the early hours of that day, Jones was headed home from a gig as a professional drummer with the band Future Prezidents when his car broke down on the Interstate 95 exit ramp at PGA Boulevard. He was trying to get a tow truck to bring his car home when Raja, wearing plainclothes and driving an unmarked van, drove up to his car and got out.
According to police officials, Raja said he shot Jones soon afterward because the 31-year-old came at him with a gun. But his family members say they believe Jones, who by day worked as a property manager for the Delray Beach Housing Authority, was actually trying to run away from Raja when the officer shot him.
Clinton Jones, Sr., who has seldom spoken publicly over the past five months, wondered aloud Saturday how his son’s case fits into the “follow the rules” phrase that has been the source of national debates on deadly encounters between police and mostly black youth. The Joneses and their attorneys have been adamant for five months in their belief that Corey Jones died without knowing Raja was a police officer.
“The ‘following the rules’ thing is a myth,” Darfoor said, comparing the downtown Fort Lauderdale neighborhood surrounding the church with the more affluent suburb of Weston. “They will not give somebody in this neighborhood three and four chances. Most of the time, the ‘rules’ are selectively enforced, and it’s a tool to be used against only some people.”
Saturday’s event was just the second formal public event Jones’ immediate family has hosted since he died. Jones’ brother, Clinton “CJ” Jones, Jr., last year co-hosted a music festival in Corey’s honor along with Future Presidentz frontman Boris Simeonov. They and others have been holding vigils at a makeshift memorial set up in the grass off the exit ramp, the most recent of which was Friday to mark the five-month anniversary of Corey’s death.
In the meantime, they are awaiting the end of a criminal investigation into the actions of Raja, who was on probation with the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department at the time of the shooting and has since been fired.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said last month an investigation has yielded more than 100 witness interviews in 30 states and three countries in connection with the shooting, which happened near Palm Beach Gardens’ Embassy Suites hotel.
FBI officials as of last month were still analyzing the scene and performing ballistics testing. Experts say a key part of the investigation will be to determine whether Jones was trying to run away from Raja when he fired the fatal shot.
Raja fired six times and hit Jones with three bullets, including a fatal shot that entered through his side and lodged in his heart.