PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLA. (WSVN) - A former Palm Beach Gardens officer has been charged in connection to the death of Corey Jones, after a grand jury found his use of force to be unjustified.
Officer Nouman Raja has been indicted on one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence, a second-degree felony with punishment up to 15 years in prison. He was also charged with attempted first-degree murder with a firearm, punishable by up to life in prison, State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced Wednesday.
According to court documents, Jones, a drummer, had left a gig before dawn when his SUV broke down on the PGA Boulevard off ramp on Interstate 95, in Palm Beach Gardens, Oct. 18. A fellow band member tried unsuccessfully to jump-start the vehicle, then left Jones, 31, to await a tow truck along the dark off ramp in the affluent city north of West Palm Beach.
Jones, who was also a housing inspector, had a concealed weapons permit and was legally allowed to carry the gun. His family said he carried a gun because he was hauling expensive equipment.
At the time, Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp said Raja had been investigating local burglaries. He stopped to check out what he thought was an abandoned vehicle and “was suddenly confronted by an armed subject.”
Police said Jones was on the phone with roadside assistance when he was approached by Raja. According to the arrest report, Raja was not wearing anything that identified him as a police officer.
A brief conversation ensued during which Raja did not identify himself as a police officer. According to the probable cause affidavit, the exchange, which was recorded during Jones’ call to roadside assistance, unfolded as follows:
Corey Jones: “Huh?”
Nouman Raja: “You good?”
Corey Jones: “I’m good.”
Nouman Raja: “Really?”
Corey Jones: “Yeah, I’m good.”
Nouman Raja: “Really?”
Corey Jones: “Yeah.”
Nouman Raja: “Get your (expletive) hands up! Get your (expletive) hands up!”
Corey Jones: “Hold on!”
Nouman Raja: “Get your (expletive) hands up! Drop!”
According to court documents, “Raja chose to approach Corey Jones’ vehicle in a tactically unsound, unsafe and grossly negligent manner.” Raja then fired six shots at Jones, hitting him three times, officials said. Jones was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police later recovered a .38-caliber handgun at the scene, which Jones had bought less than 72 hours earlier. The firearm was found away from his body, and it had not been discharged.
His family and lawyers have insisted he would not have had his gun out as Raja approached if he had identified himself as a police officer or shown a badge.
Terry Banks, Jones’ uncle, spoke with reporters, Wednesday afternoon. “It takes a whole village, sometimes, to get justice, and yeah, we’re happy about the process as far as the findings,” he said, “but there’s a lot more that we have to learn about what the findings represent, and I believe that we’re on the right track, and, you know, we just miss Corey.”
Palm Beach Gardens officials fired Raja after the shooting. He had only been on the force six months after seven years with a neighboring department. The chief decided that he had failed his probationary period.
Raja was booked into the Palm Beach County Detention Center. His mug shot has not yet been released.
Raja is expected in court sometime Thursday morning. While Corey Jones’ family will be holding a news conference around 11:30 a.m.
Editor’s Note: The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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