Of­fi­cer Raja to stand trial for fa­tal shoot­ing of Corey Jones

South Florida Times - - NATION - By TERRY SPENCER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A judge ruled Friday that a Florida po­lice of­fi­cer must stand trial for the fa­tal shoot­ing of a stranded black mo­torist, say­ing his retelling of what hap­pened on the dark­ened high­way off-ramp was “un­re­li­able and not cred­i­ble.''

Cir­cuit Judge Sa­man­tha Schos­berg Feuer re­jected fired Palm Beach Gar­dens of­fi­cer Nouman Raja's at­tempt to use Florida's “stand your ground'' law, say­ing his state­ments to in­ves­ti­ga­tors af­ter the 2015 shoot­ing of Corey Jones are not sup­ported by an au­dio­tape of the shoot­ing and other phys­i­cal ev­i­dence, such as the lo­ca­tion of the bul­let cas­ings.

She said the ev­i­dence shows Raja, who was work­ing in plain clothes and driv­ing an un­marked van, was not truth­ful when he told in­ves­ti­ga­tors about five hours af­ter the shoot­ing that he iden­ti­fied him­self as a po­lice of­fi­cer when he ap­proached Jones' bro­ken-down SUV or when he said he pulled his gun only af­ter Jones, who had a con­cealed weapons per­mit, pulled his own hand­gun.

In­stead, Feuer agreed with pros­e­cu­tors that Raja never iden­ti­fied him­self and ap­proached Jones ag­gres­sively with his gun drawn, mak­ing Jones be­lieve he was about to be at­tacked by a stranger.

“It was then, and only then, that Jones pulled out his gun in re­sponse,” Feuer wrote. She also be­lieves Raja opened fire as Jones ran away, with the two of the three bul­lets that struck Jones hit­ting him in the back. She found Raja's use of force “was not rea­son­able.”

The Palm Beach County State At­tor­ney's of­fice de­clined com­ment Friday on Feuer's rul­ing.

Raja's lead at­tor­ney, Richard Lu­bin, said he plans to file an ap­peal next week, which will likely de­lay the trial's sched­uled July start. Without go­ing into specifics, he said he dis­agreed with Feuer's con­clu­sions and how she ap­plied the law.

At a two-day hear­ing last month, Lu­bin ar­gued that Raja should be pro­tected un­der “stand your ground'' be­cause he feared for his life when Jones pulled his gun. The law says any­one, not just po­lice of­fi­cers, can use deadly force if they be­lieve it nec­es­sary to pre­vent death or great bod­ily harm. How­ever, the law does not cover an al­ter­ca­tion's in­sti­ga­tor.

Jones, a hous­ing in­spec­tor and part-time drum­mer, was re­turn­ing from a late-night per­for­mance by his reg­gae band when his SUV stalled and he pulled over on an In­ter­state 95 off-ramp.

Raja, who was part of a team try­ing to catch car bur­glars, spot­ted the ve­hi­cle and drove the wrong way up the off-ramp just be­fore 3:15 a.m.

Raja ex­ited his van and ap­proached Jones, who was on the phone with a tow truck dis­patch cen­ter, which recorded the call some­thing Raja didn't know when he made his state­ment to in­ves­ti­ga­tors. At the time, he had been a po­lice of­fi­cer for seven years, trans­fer­ring to Palm Beach Gar­dens six months ear­lier.

Raja was not wear­ing his tac­ti­cal vest with po­lice mark­ings as or­dered and he is never heard on the dis­patch record­ing iden­ti­fy­ing him­self as a po­lice of­fi­cer. Raja, who says he iden­ti­fied him­self, was wear­ing jeans, a T-shirt, sneak­ers and a base­ball cap.

In the tow dis­patch record­ing, Jones is heard say­ing “Huh?'' just be­fore Raja yells “You good?'' Jones says he is. Raja twice replies, “Re­ally?” with Jones re­ply­ing “yeah” each time.

Sud­denly, Raja shouts for Jones to put his hands up, us­ing an ex­ple­tive. Jones replies “Hold on!'' and Raja re­peats his de­mand. Feuer be­lieves it was about this time that Jones pulled his gun, which his fam­ily says he had bought just days be­fore to pro­tect his mu­si­cal equip­ment val­ued at $10,000.

Raja then fires three shots in less than two sec­onds.Ten sec­onds pass be­fore three more shots are heard a sec­ond apart, ap­par­ently Raja fir­ing at Jones as he ran down an em­bank­ment. Raja told in­ves­ti­ga­tors Jones kept point­ing his gun at him with his right hand. Feuer pointed out in her rul­ing that Jones was left handed.

Pros­e­cu­tors say Raja saw Jones throw down his gun but kept fir­ing, which is why he is charged with at­tempted mur­der. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have been un­able to de­ter­mine when the fa­tal shot was fired, but it was one of the shots that struck Jones in the back.

Raja then used his per­sonal cell­phone to call 911 with the op­er­a­tor pick­ing up 33 sec­onds af­ter the last shot was fired. Raja is recorded yelling or­ders to drop the gun; pros­e­cu­tors say he was try­ing to mis­lead in­ves­ti­ga­tors into be­liev­ing he hadn't seen the gun thrown. Jones' body was found 200 feet (60 me­ters) from the SUV and 125 feet (38 me­ters) from his gun, which was un­fired.

Palm Beach Gar­dens quickly fired Raja, who was still in his em­ployee pro­ba­tion pe­riod. He was charged eight months later.

PHOTO COURTESY OF YOUTUBE.COM

Fired Palm Beach Gar­dens of­fi­cer Nouman Raja, left, will stand trial for the death of Corey Jones, right.

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