On what would have been Corey Jones’ 33rd birthday, his family representatives Friday said the legal system is taking too long to provide justice in the police shooting that took his life.
On Oct. 18, 2015, Jones was waiting for help with his broken-down SUV along I-95 when he was shot three times and killed by then-Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja, according to investigators.
Raja — wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a ball cap, and driving an unmarked cargo van used for police surveillance — failed to identify himself as an officer before he shot Jones, who had a gun he was licensed to carry, according to investigators.
“We are looking for justice,” Corey Jones’ father, Clinton Jones, said at a news conference Friday in West Palm Beach. “This officer took his life. Didn’t even give him an opportunity. … There was no reason at all to kill my son.”
Raja has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder. After Raja was charged last year, the county’s police union picked up his legal expenses. It said a police officer should be able “to defend himself while in fear for his life.”
The Corey Jones police shooting: A look at evidence in the case
“We will stick by this guy because he’s innocent of what he’s charged with,” John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, told the Sun Sentinel last month.
The Jones family attorney, Benjamin Crump, said despite the charges, getting a conviction of a police officer who shoots a person of color remains difficult. Crump said if the roles had been reversed the night of the shooting, Corey Jones would be in jail today. “We have a long way to go in America to have equal justice for all,” Crump said.
Evidence in the Nouman Raja case was released Tuesday by prosecutors
The recording of Jones’ call to a roadside assistance service — which captured both Jones and Raja’s dialogue before the sounds of gunshots — is among documents and audio/video evidence released by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, in response to public records’ requests.
It generally takes up to two years after the filing of charges, like those in the Raja case, for the case to trial, said State Attorney spokesman Michael Edmondson. The charges Raja faces were filed in June. No trial date has been set yet in the Raja case, Edmondson said.
Palm Beach Gardens Police Department fired Raja after the shooting, and he is on house arrest while awaiting trial.
In addition to the criminal charges, Raja and the city of Palm Beach Gardens are the subjects of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jones’ family. The lawsuit calls into question the police department’s use of burglary patrols where officers didn’t wear uniforms and drove cars without police lights or other police identifiers.
The judge handling the Jones’ family lawsuit put the case on hold until the criminal case is resolved, according to attorney Scott Alexander, who represents the city of Palm Beach Gardens.
Jones, a Delray Beach housing inspector and a drummer, was leaving a performance the night his Hyundai Santa Fe broke down along the southbound I-95 off-ramp at PGA Boulevard.
Raja told investigators that he stopped about 3:15 a.m. to check on what he thought was an abandoned car. Raja told police that he identified himself as a police officer when Jones emerged from the vehicle. However, a recording of a cellphone call Jones made that night to roadside assistance reveals that Raja didn’t identify himself as an officer before opening fire, according to the State Attorney’s Office.
When Raja got out of the unmarked police van, he left behind a vest that said “Police.” Officers on patrol in plain clothes are supposed to wear those vests to identify themselves to the public, according to police.
A report from prosecutors said “no reasonable person would assume” that the white cargo van Raja drove that night was a police vehicle. And Jones’ family attorneys have said Corey Jones likely didn’t know it was a police officer approaching him.
Raja’s attorney, Richard Lubin, could not be reached for comment.
Staff writer Marc Freeman contributed to this report.
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