WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Prosecutors said a fired Palm Beach Gardens police officer should stand trial for the fatal shooting of a stranded driver because it was his misconduct that led the driver to legally pull his gun.
Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes said in his opening statement Monday in Nouman Raja's "stand your ground" hearing that the officer never identified himself as a police officer as he approached Corey Jones on the side of an Interstate 95 ramp in October 2015.
Raja, 40, was working in plainclothes and Fernandes said Raja was not wearing a police vest as ordered by his sergeant. He said a recording also shows he never verbally identified himself, making Jones, 31, think he was a robber.
Raja's attorney, Scott Richardson, told Judge Samantha Schosberg Feur that Raja did identify himself and was justified in shooting Jones because he pulled a gun. Jones had a concealed weapons permit.
"He was in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm when he shot Mr. Corey Jones," Richardson said.
Investigative video obtained by Local 10 News in March shows Raja explaining to authorities how he shot and killed Jones on the morning of Oct. 18, 2015.
In the video, Raja tells investigators how he thought the SUV was empty when he saw Jones holding a gun and pointing it at him.
Jones' family members sat in the courtroom as audio recordings from the incident were played.
"We don't agree that he announced who he was," Fernandes said. "He definitely didn't follow any type of practice or policy on doing what he should do as a law enforcement officer."
Authorities said Raja fired six shots, killing Jones.
There have been inconsistencies in Raja's version of events to investigators, but the case could come down to how much credibility the judge gives a so-called second voice heard on Jones' original roadside assistance call before the shots were fired.
"Were you able to determine characteristics of it which would make it possible that it was Officer Raja's voice?" Richardson asked forensic audio and video analyst Frank Piazza.
"Yes," Piazza answered.
If the case proceeds, Raja is scheduled for trial in July. He could get a life sentence if convicted.