Former South Florida police officer arrested in Corey Jones fatal shooting

Nouman Raja charged with manslaughter, attempted first-degree murder

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A former South Florida police officer has been charged in last year's fatal shooting of Corey Jones after a grand jury determined that the "use of force was unjustified," Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said Wednesday.

Nouman Raja was arrested Wednesday and taken into custody, Aronberg said.

Raja was charged with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence and one count of attempted first-degree murder with a firearm.

Corey Jones, who was a drummer in the reggae band "Future Prezidents," was fatally shot by Palm Beach Gardens police Officer Nouman Raja.

Jones, 31, was fatally shot by the former Palm Beach Gardens police officer last year.

Police said Jones was stranded on the side of an Interstate 95 exit ramp on Oct. 18, 2015, when he was approached by Raja, who was not in uniform and was driving an unmarked van.

Jones, who was a drummer in a reggae band, was leaving a performance in Jupiter early that morning when his SUV broke down.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Jones made several calls from his cellphone before the shooting. The first call was to his friend and bandmate at 1:36 a.m. The second call was to request roadside assistance at 1:44 a.m.

Jones' friend and a Road Ranger arrived a short time later, but they left after they were unable to fix the disabled SUV. Jones told his friend that he didn't want to leave his drum equipment unattended, so his friend left about 2:45 a.m.

"He was the last person to see Corey Jones alive before Nouman Raja became involved," the affidavit said.

Jones also made five calls to the AT&T roadside assistance center between 2:09 a.m. and 2:45 a.m. Although his first four calls were not answered, the last call was successfully connected. Jones waited almost 30 minutes before an operator answered about 3:12 a.m.

The call was recorded and provided investigators with an audio replay of the moments leading to the shooting.

Corey Jones' SUV was broken down on the side of an Interstate 95 exit ramp.

"Jones appeared to be calm and under his normal faculties, coherently providing details and answering questions in a casual manner," the affidavit said. "Jones and the call center operator conversed about the trouble Jones was having with his vehicle. During those first two minutes, there was no background noise heard from Jones' call."

About two minutes into the call, however, the "distinct, persistent sounds of Jones' door chimes" could be heard, the affidavit said.

The door chimes indicated that Jones had a door to his SUV open with the key in the ignition.

Nine to 10 seconds after the sound of the door chimes are initially heard, the recording captures a verbal exchange between Jones and Raja.

"Huh?" Jones said.

"You good?" Raja asked.

"I'm good," Jones replied.

"Really?" Raja asked.

"Yeah, I'm good," Jones said.

"Really?" Raja asked again.

"Yeah," Jones said.

"Get your (expletive) hands up," Raja said. "Get your (expletive) hands up."

"Hold on," Jones said.

"Get your (expletive) hands up," Raja repeated. "Drop…"

Raja fired three shots in rapid succession immediately after saying "drop," the affidavit said. About 10 seconds after the third shot was fired, three more shots could be heard, the affidavit said.

The operator, who was the last person to speak to Jones before Raja arrived, heard everything.

Raja was on duty at the time of the shooting but not wearing clothes that identified him as an officer.

"There had been a problem with late night auto burglaries in Palm Beach Gardens," the affidavit said. "Raja was assigned to surveillance patrol in large parking lots with the goal of locating the burglary suspects."

Raja had been told by his supervisor to wear his tactical vest with police markings on it while working the assignment, but his vest and police radio were on the van's floorboard next the driver's seat when the shooting occurred, the affidavit said.

The officer used his personal cellphone to call 911 after the shooting, providing his version of what happened.

"(Jones) had a silver handgun in his right hand," Raja said. "I came out. I saw him come out with a handgun. I gave him commands. I identified myself and he turned, pointed the gun at me and started running. I shot him."

Police arrived and began their investigation, searching for the gun that Raja claimed Jones was carrying at the time of the shooting. Police used K-9 officers to search the tall grass near the PGA Boulevard exit ramp and found the gun about 74 feet from the back of Jones' SUV.

Police tape surrounds the Interstate 95 exit ramp to PGA Boulevard in the hours after the Oct. 18, 2015, shooting.

Jones was found about 192 feet from the back of his vehicle, the affidavit said. Paramedics arrived and pronounced him dead at 3:32 a.m.

Raja used his personal gun to shoot Jones because his department-issued gun was in its holster inside the van, the affidavit said.

Three of the six shots that were fired struck Jones -- one in each arm and another to his chest, the affidavit said. Dr. Gertrude Juste, an associate medical examiner in Palm Beach County, performed an autopsy and determined that the gunshot wound to Jones' chest was what caused his death.

Despite his more than seven years of experience as a police officer, Raja acted "in a tactically unsound, unsafe and grossly negligent manner," the affidavit said.

Raja told police that Jones threw his gun into the grass, but the investigation revealed that Raja "continued to fire at Jones as he ran away," the affidavit said. Juste determined that the shot that struck Jones' right arm was fired from the rear.

"There is no question that Jones ran away from Raja," the affidavit said.

Investigators also determined that Jones' gun was loaded, but the chamber of the pistol was locked and the safety was on, the affidavit said.

Jones had a license to carry a firearm and had purchased the gun days prior to the shooting.

"He had owned the firearm for less than 72 hours when he was killed," the affidavit said.

Police photograph the spot where Corey Jones' gun was found in the tall grass.

Raja, who was fired about a month after the shooting, wasn't immediately arrested, causing outrage among some members of the black community in the aftermath of several police-involved shootings throughout the country.

"We were relieved to learn that Officer Nouman Raja, who senselessly killed Corey Jones, was arrested earlier today and will face criminal charges for his reckless act," Jones' family members said in a joint statement Wednesday. "While we understand that nothing can bring back our son, brother and friend, this arrest sends a message that this conduct will not be tolerated from members of law enforcement."

Aronberg's office had been reviewing evidence in the shooting for months before deciding in April to send the case to the grand jury, which ultimately concluded that there was sufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.

"The intent of discharging (Raja's) firearm was to kill Corey Jones," the affidavit said.

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