Protesters rally in Palm Beach Gardens to demand justice for Corey Jones/Sun-Sentinel
By Richard Luscombe in Miami
The body of a church musician shot dead by a plain-clothes police officer as he waited for a tow truck close to a quiet Florida interstate was found almost 100 feet from his broken-down vehicle, it emerged on Thursday, suggesting that he might have been running away from his killer.
Lawyers for the victim’s family also revealed that Corey Jones, 31, was shot three times by the officer, Nouman Raja, during their fateful encounter in the early hours of Sunday morning near the I95 in Palm Beach Gardens.
Jones, who had a legally held permit for a concealed weapon, did not fire his gun at all, attorney Benjamin Crump said.
“How did Corey know that this was a police officer? Why didn’t he identify himself? Why didn’t he show the badge?” Crump said at an emotional press conference at Palm Beach courthouse on Thursday morning attended by members of Jones’s family.
“He rolls up on him in an unmarked white van with tinted windows. He doesn’t know if he’s about to get mugged, if he’s about to get robbed, or he’s about to be killed. Imagine yourself on the side of the road at three in the morning and an unmarked van rolls up on you.”
Stephen Stepp, the chief of Palm Beach Gardens police department, told reporters on Tuesday that Raja, 38, who was on duty in civilian clothes and driving an unmarked van, pulled up behind what he thought was an abandoned vehicle and was then confronted by Jones who was waving a gun.
“As the officer exited his vehicle, he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject,” Stepp said. “As a result of the confrontation, the officer discharged his firearm, resulting in the death of Mr Corey Jones.”
But Jones’s brother Clinton, a former professional American Football player, told Thursday’s press conference it would be totally out of character for a man whose passion was playing drums in a touring church band to confront an officer, especially with a weapon.
“He was the kindest, the closest, the happiest person anybody could imagine,” he said.
“I knew everything about my brother. We know that he would not ever, ever, ever pull a gun on police. This is not like him.”
Jones’s father, also called Clinton and church minister, wept as he recalled his son. “I raised my children to be respectable and to respect the law,” he said. “I always tell them to stay humble. I need answers. I need to know why is my son gone today.”
Jones’s family “won’t let his death be swept under the rug,” Crump said, adding that a meeting with the Palm Beach county’s state attorney David Aronberg earlier in the day had not provided the answers they were seeking.
“They [the state attorney’s office] happen to depend on the officer’s version, so they can’t independently confirm any of this other than what they said was told to them by one source only,” he said.
“We believe Corey went to his grave not knowing if this was a real cop or not. We want the truth to come out. They want answers. They want justice.
“If he [Raja] did improper things, if he used excessive force, you want him to be held accountable to the full measure of the law, because they know Corey didn’t deserve to be killed on the side of a road by somebody who was supposed to protect and serve him while he waited on the tow truck.”
Aronberg announced on Wednesday that his office would look in to Jones’s death in partnership with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, at the request of the state’s governor Rick Scott.
“As state attorney my office is conducting an independent and thorough investigation, as we do in all officer involved shooting deaths,” he said in a statement.
“We intend to fulfil our responsibilities of fairness and transparency under the law and to the community.”
A separate investigation is also under way by the Palm Beach County sheriff’s office.
Crump added that while no preliminary autopsy report had yet been received, he was able to say that Jones was shot three times, and there were five holes in his body representing entrance and exit wounds.
“One bullet came in through the side of his body, through his aorta and lodged in the upper side of his body,” he said.
He said the family also had questions about where Jones fell after he was shot. “At some point Corey was running away. His body was found 80 to 100 feet away from where they initially met at the car,” Crump said.
“There are so many unanswered questions. It’s hard to understand because it makes no sense to them and it makes no sense to me.”
An estimated 300-400 protestors attended a rally outside the Palm Beach Gardens police department after the press conference, many of them wearing Justice for Corey tee-shirts and carrying Black Lives Matter banners.
Earlier Thursday the civil rights leader Al Sharpton said he would be coming to South Florida to meet with Jones’s family.
“The preliminary facts given by the police to the family are disturbing and troubling to National Action Network and we intend to give our full support to further inquiries and the pursuit of justice,” Sharpton said in a statement.