WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A jury March 7 found former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja guilty of manslaughter while armed and attempted first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting death of Corey Jones, a black motorist who was stranded on Interstate 95.
Raja is the first officer in the state to be convicted of an on-duty shooting in 30 years.
The four-man, two-woman jury had deliberated for about four hours. Raja did not react as the verdict was read, while about 25 relatives and supporters of Jones looked on, some weeping quietly. One said "the sweetest sound was the click of those handcuffs" after Raja was led from the courtroom.
After the sentencing Raja, who was working for the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department at the time (see India-West article here: https://bit.ly/2SOTLyj), was handcuffed and taken into custody. The judge revoked bond.
Outside of the courtroom Corey's father Clinton Jones, Sr. said he wasn't surprised at the verdict because family members knew in their heart that Raja was guilty.
"I just thank God the truth caught up with him and that he was convicted," said Clinton Jones, Sr.
State Attorney Dave Aronberg said the family of Corey Jones can now finally achieve a measure of justice and closure after three-and-a-half years of what he called an "open wound" affecting them and the entire community. "And now our community can begin to heal and I'm just so thankful to the Jones and Banks family for leading the way and being so patient and so trusting in our office and the process," Aronberg said.
Raja's defense counsel released this statement:
The entire defense team is devastated by the jury’s verdict. We believe in Nouman Raja’s innocence and we will continue to stand behind him as his case is reviewed by the judge and, if necessary, the appellate courts.
The city of Palm Beach Gardens released the following statement after the verdict:
Our hearts go out to all of those who have and will continue to deal with the damaging effects of the tragic death of Corey Jones. This tragedy has impacted everyone from the families to our local community, and beyond. We hope this verdict will allow all of those involved to begin the process of healing
Attorneys Ben Crump, Daryl Parks, Skinner Louis, and Kweku Darfoor, the legal team representing the family of Corey Jones, issued the following statement: “For three long years since the heart-wrenching and senseless death of Corey Jones, his family and countless others have been waiting for justice. Today, a Palm Beach County jury delivered that justice.”
Sentencing is set for April 26.
Prosecutors said Raja, one of very few police officers across the nation to be convicted of an on-duty shooting, escalated what should have been a routine interaction into a deadly confrontation.
Working in plain clothes, he drove his unmarked van the wrong way up an off ramp, stopping feet from Jones' broken-down SUV at 3:15 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2015. The prosecutor said Raja never identified himself and acted so aggressively that Jones must have thought he was about to be carjacked or killed. That caused Jones, a concealed weapons permit holder, to grab his gun and run as Raja repeatedly opened fire, they said.
Jones, a housing inspector and part-time drummer, had been returning home from a nightclub performance when his vehicle stalled. He had purchased the .38-caliber handgun days earlier to protect his $10,000 drum set, which was in the SUV.
Raja was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap as part of an auto burglary investigation team when he spotted Jones' SUV. He said he first thought it was empty, but then saw Jones inside. Raja's supervisor testified the officer had been told to don a police vest to identify himself if he approached a civilian. He did not. Prosecutors also questioned why Raja didn't pull out the badge he had in his pocket.
What police didn't know at first was that Jones was talking to a tow truck dispatcher on a recorded line. That recording shows Jones saying "Huh?" as his door opens. Raja yells, "You good?" Jones says he is. Raja replies twice, "Really?" with Jones replying "Yeah."
Suddenly, Raja shouts at Jones to raise his hands, using an expletive. Jones replies "Hold on!" and Raja repeats his demand.
Prosecutors believe Jones pulled his gun and tried to get away. Raja fired three shots and Jones ran down an embankment. Prosecutors said he threw his gun, which was found 125 feet from his body, but Raja fired three more times, 10 seconds after the first volley.
Jones was killed by a bullet through his heart. A medical examiner testified that Jones would have dropped feet from where the fatal shot struck him. He also had been shot once in each arm.
Prosecutors said Raja, not knowing of the tow-truck dispatcher recording, tried to deceive investigators. He told them in a video-recorded interview hours after the shooting he said "Police, can I help you?" as Jones jumped from the SUV. He told investigators Jones then leapt backward and pointed his gun, forcing him to fire. Raja said Jones ran but turned and again pointed his gun, forcing him to fire the second volley.
Prosecutors charged Raja with manslaughter because they believed his actions created the confrontation and showed "culpable negligence," meaning a "reckless disregard" or "conscious indifference" for Jones' life. They charged him with attempted first-degree murder because they believed that while they couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt which of the six shots killed him, the second volley was a conscious effort to kill Jones as he ran away.
Raja's attorneys said Jones' initial "Huh?" shows he identified himself – the tape picked up something unintelligible and faint.
Palm Beach Gardens fired Raja shortly after the shooting. He had been under house arrest since he was charged in 2016.
India-West Staff Reporter adds: According to an article in The Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach defense attorney Richard Lubin has said in court records that the idea that race played a role in Raja’s interactions with Jones is absurd, describing Raja himself as a “minority” by virtue of his Pakistani heritage.