Details murky in fatal police shooting of Florida musician Corey Jones – Los Angeles Times
The killing of a musician by a police officer has ignited familiar tensions in Florida, with family members questioning the officer’s actions as police contend the dead man had a handgun at the scene.
As with many other police-involved shootings that have sparked a national discussion about race and law enforcement tactics in the last year and a half, the details surrounding the killing of 31-year-old Corey Jones are murky.
Jones, described by local media as a musician from Boynton Beach, Fla., was shot after he was confronted by Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja, 38, on the side of a highway around 3 a.m. Sunday.
Jones had just finished a show with his band when his car broke down, a band mate told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Raja was in plainclothes and driving an unmarked car when he approached Jones’ vehicle, according to police.
In a news release, police said Raja was “suddenly confronted by an armed subject” as he got out of his vehicle.
“As a result of the confrontation, the officer discharged his firearm,” resulting in Jones’ death, the statement read.
Police did not offer a detailed account of the shooting until Tuesday evening, more than 36 hours after Jones was killed.
During a news conference Tuesday, Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen J. Stepp told reporters that detectives had recovered a handgun outside Jones’ car. Police also found paperwork proving that Jones had bought the gun three days earlier, he said.
The box in which the gun had been sold in was found inside the vehicle, and officers matched the serial number of the weapon to the one on the box, Stepp said.
Police did not say whether Jones pointed the weapon at Raja or was even holding the gun when the officer opened fire. Citing the ongoing investigation, Stepp refused to say what exactly led to the fatal clash or release any reports, 911 transcripts or radio transmissions related to the shooting.
Raja’s vehicle was not equipped with a dashboard camera, according to Stepp, and the department’s officers do not wear body cameras.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department has launched an independent investigation of the shooting.
Meanwhile, Jones’ family is scrambling for answers.
“He was sitting on the side of the road and got shot,” Jones’ uncle, Sylvester Banks Jr., told the Sun-Sentinel. “We didn’t find out about it until 12 hours later.”
Jones’ family has retained high-powered civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who has also represented the relatives of shooting victims Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice. The family released a statement Tuesday describing Jones as a “God-fearing man who dedicated his life to doing the right thing.”
“He lived every moment to the fullest and was an inspiration to many; the kind of son, brother and friend people could only hope for,” the family said. “Rest assured, we are working diligently with our legal team to determine exactly why this plainclothes police officer in an unmarked car would approach Corey.”
Earlier Tuesday, the local police union accused the department of a lack of transparency. John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Assn., told the Los Angeles Times that the department’s hesitation to release information would only stoke public suspicion that the officer used excessive force.
“We’re very concerned that the police department is continuing to be silent,” Kazanjian said. “The inferences out there are that they’re covering up, or that the officer did something wrong. We need to come out and quell those.”
Kazanjian said he wants to avoid a situation like the one in Ferguson, Mo., which experienced unrest after Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man, was fatally shot by a police officer last year.
“They took so long out there to address the public on what transpired,” Kazanjian said. “All the playbooks say don’t do that, and I don’t know why the chief here in Palm Beach Gardens has taken two or three days to respond.”
During a frantic question-and-answer session that followed Stepp’s news conference, reporters invoked the Ferguson shooting. But the police chief said he hoped the release of some additional information would calm tensions in the community.
“It’s an independent investigation and there’s only so much that we have knowledge of and that we can release,” he said. “I understand the public’s concern. We share that. The most important thing, I believe, is to get the facts out.”
Raja was working as part of a detail that is investigating a string of burglaries in Palm Beach Gardens at the time of the shooting, Stepp said. He joined the department in April after serving as a patrolman and sergeant with the nearby Atlantis Police Department from 2008 to 2015.
A spokeswoman for Atlantis police said Raja left the department in “good standing.” He has not been the subject of any complaints, disciplinary action or internal investigations since he joined the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department, Stepp said.
Raja served as a firearms instructor and also as a patrol sergeant overseeing traffic operations while he served with the Atlantis Police Department, according to documents released by Palm Beach Gardens officials. He also began working as an adjunct instructor at Palm Beach State College’s police academy in April 2014, the documents say.
Before he was shot, Jones had called a family member about the vehicle trouble and decided to call a tow truck, relatives told the Sun-Sentinel.
Jones’ family is well known in Boynton Beach, about 15 miles south of Palm Beach, Fla., where his grandfather, Sylvester Banks, is a bishop at a local church, the newspaper reported.
His brother Clinton “C.J.” Jones was an NFL player with the Cleveland Browns in 2003 and New England Patriots in 2008, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Cassandra Gibbs, Jones’ cousin, told the newspaper that Jones wouldn’t have done anything to provoke an officer to shoot at him.
His death “feels like a sharp pain, like a knife,” she said.
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