WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A detective said a former South Florida police officer on trial for killing a stranded black motorist gave an interview to investigators shortly after the shooting that doesn't match other evidence, including an audio recording of the confrontation that neither side then knew existed.
Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Chris Karpinski told jurors Wednesday there are discrepancies between the statements Nouman Raja told him and others four hours after the Oct. 18, 2015, shooting, and a recording of a phone call Corey Jones, 31, was making to a tow truck dispatch center.
The former Palm Beach Gardens police officer shot and killed Jones, who was stranded on the side of an Interstate 95 exit ramp after his SUV had broken down.
Judge Joseph Marx would not allow Karpinski to elaborate, but prosecutors played the video-recorded interview for the four-man, two-woman panel. They heard the tow truck audio Tuesday, the trial's first day of testimony.
Raja's attorneys said any discrepancies between the interview and the shooting audio were caused by stress fogging Raja's memory, not lies or attempts to mislead.
Raja, 41, told Karpinski and other detectives he was participating in a plain-clothes investigation of auto burglaries when he spotted Jones' SUV, parked and dark, on the I-95 off-ramp to PGA Boulevard at about 3:15 a.m. He told detectives he thought it was abandoned, so he drove his unmarked white van the wrong way up the ramp and pulled in front of it at an angle.
As Raja approached, he said Jones jumped out, yelling, "I'm good, I'm good." Raja, who was dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and cap with no police markings, said he replied, "Police, can I help you?"
Raja said Jones leapt backward and pointed a gun at him, forcing him to pull his own gun and fire.
"I didn't want to die," Raja told investigators, saying visions of his family flashed before his eyes.
At one point, Raja could be seen wiping away tears as the video played in the courtroom.
Raja told investigators he wasn't sure if he hit Jones, who ran down a swale. He said he tracked Jones, pointing his gun and yelling for Jones to drop his, as he simultaneously dialed 911 with his cellphone in his other hand. He said just as 911 answered, Jones turned and again pointed his gun. Raja, a police firearms instructor, said he yelled "Aim!" at himself and pointed his gun at Jones' chest, methodically firing more shots. He said Jones and his gun dropped.
At the time of this videotaped interview, neither Raja nor investigators knew about the tow truck dispatch recording, which prosecutors said points to a different sequence of events.
Karpinski said he learned of the tow-truck call five days after the shooting. Prosecutors said it shows that Raja's actions made Jones think he was being robbed, causing Jones, who had a concealed weapons permit, to pull his gun.
Nowhere in the recording is Raja heard identifying himself as a police officer.
Jones' unfired gun was found about 125 feet from his body.
The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department fired Raja shortly after the shooting. He has been on house arrest since he was charged in June 2016.