Fla. Cop Indicted in |Roadside Shooting

     (CN) — Prominent civil rights lawyers expressed gratitude outside of a Palm Beach County courthouse, hours after former police officer Nouman Raja made his first court appearance after being indicted on what a federal grand jury called the “unjustified” killing of a stranded black motorist.
     “This is a sign of hope for America that occurred here in Palm Beach County,” said Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the family of victim Corey Jones. “This grand jury had the courage to listen to all the evidence.”
     Jones, a 31-year-old, African-American drummer and housing inspector, was in need of help at 3:15 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2015, when car trouble after a music performance left him stranded on the side of the road.
     Raja, a Palm Beach Gardens police officer with seven years on the force, was in plainclothes investigating vehicle thefts when he broke with proper procedure in approaching Jones’s car, according to the arrest affidavit.
     “Despite [Raja’s] experience, his extensive police training, and the direction of a superior officer to wear his tactical vest with police markings on it to clearly identify himself as a police officer, Raja chose to approach Corey Jones’s vehicle in a tactically unsound, unsafe and grossly negligent manner,” the affidavit reads.
     There were problems in the encounter between the two men right from the start.
     First, Raja was driving an unmarked white cargo van, “which no reasonable person would assume was a police vehicle,” the affidavit states. Second, Raja was dressed in casual clothing with no police badge, no police vest, no nothing to indicate his profession. Third, Raja drove the wrong way, northbound, up the southbound off-ramp to approach Jones’s vehicle.
     Because Jones had made a call for roadside assistance, the entire exchange between the two men was recorded, unbeknownst to Raja.
     First, a door chime sounds as Jones exits his vehicle. Then he can be heard uttering, “huh?”
     “You good?” Raja asks.
     “I’m Good,” Jones says.
     “Really?” Raja asks.
     “Yeah. I’m good,” Jones repeats.
     “Really?” Raja asks once more, refusing to consider the possibility that Jones might actually be what he says — a good guy.
     “Yeah,” Jones answers once more.
     “Get your fucking hands up! Get your fucking hands up!” Raja says.
     “Hold on!” Jones says. Those are his final words.
     “Get your fucking hands up! Drop!” Raja says before firing three shots.
     In the recording, the operator can be heard saying, “Oh my gosh.”
     About 10 seconds later, Raja fires three more shots, one of which pierced Jones’s chest, passing through his heart and lungs.
     According to forensic pathologist, the wound would have limited Jones flight to only a few more yards, yet his handgun was found 41 yards away. Investigators concluded that it meant Raja shot and killed Jones well after Jones had dropped his gun.
     About 33 seconds after the Raja fired the last round, he called 911 from his cellphone. As the 911 call connected, but before the 911 operator could answer, Raja can be heard yelling, “drop that fucking gun right now!” Based on the evidence, investigators concluded that at that time, Jones would have been on the ground dying, without his gun. It’s not the only thing Raja appears to have lied about.
     When the 911 operator asked Raja for a description of who he shot, here’s what he said: “black male wearing all black, dreads, had a silver handgun in his right hand. I came out, I saw him come out with a handgun. I gave him commands. I identified myself and he turned, pointed the gun at me, and started running. I shot him.”
     Investigators concluded there were two problems with those statements.
     Firstly, at no time does Raja identify himself in the roadside assistance recording.
     The second issue is one that Jones’s sister Melissa wanted to reiterate outside the courthouse on Wednesday.
     “Corey is left-handed,” she said. “Always has been.”
     State Attorney Steve Aronberg placed the matter in the hands of a grand jury in April.
     After a majority of the 21 grand jury members concluded Raja’s use of force unjustified, Aronberg formally charged Raja with manslaughter by culpable negligence, a second degree felony punishable with up to 15 years in prison, and attempted first degree murder with a firearm, which is punishable by up to life in prison.
     At a hearing last week, the judge set a $250,000 bond and stipulated that Raja will be on house arrest with a GPS monitor. He must also surrender his passport and any guns, refrain from working in law enforcement, and have no contact with the Jones family or the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department.
     Later in the day, with family, friends and civil rights attorneys gathered in front of the courthouse, lawyer Daryl Parks wanted to stress the importance of the audio recording that ultimately provided the evidence to indict Raja.
     “Thank God,” he said. “Just imagine if that audio tape wasn’t there, what the narrative would be … What we see in America over and over again, is they always take the word of the officer, and the black or brown person on the ground is attacked. His character is assassinated.”
     As for the gun Jones had in his possession the night he was killed, his family said he bought it only three days earlier because he was worried that somebody might try to rob him of his drumming equipment.
     “He was a law abiding, gun-registered American citizen,” Crump said. “Americans have the right to protect themselves.”

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