WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The police union defended a former officer charged in the fatal shooting of a legally armed black man, saying they believe the officer identified himself before the confrontation.
Former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja has been charged with manslaughter and attempted murder in the Oct. 18 death of Corey Jones. Raja's bail was set at $250,000 during his first court appearance Thursday.
Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said the union believes Raja, who was fired after the shooting, identified himself before confronting Jones on an Interstate 95 ramp before dawn.
Charging documents said Raja, who was investigating a string of auto burglaries, did not identify himself before opening fire. He was driving an unmarked cargo van with no police lights and was in civilian clothes: a tan T-shirt, jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap, the documents said.
Raja's sergeant told investigators he had instructed Raja to wear his tactical vest that has police markings while on this assignment for his own safety and to identify himself, but it was found in Raja's van along with his police radio, the documents said. Raja, 38, had been a police officer for seven years, but only about six months with Palm Beach Gardens, a well-to-do suburb.
The documents said Raja lied to a 911 operator to make it appear that Jones was still armed and a threat more than 30 seconds after he had been felled by the officer's bullets. If convicted, Raja could face life in prison.
The charges, according to court documents, center on a recording of Jones talking to a tow truck operator after his SUV had broken down as he returned home from a performance. Jones, a drummer who also worked as a housing inspector, had purchased his gun only days earlier because he was worried about being robbed of his music equipment, his family has said. He had a concealed weapons permit.
Jones and the operator had talked uneventfully for about two minutes when Raja, who is of South Asian descent, pulled up the ramp from the wrong direction and parked in front of Jones' SUV.
Charging documents said that, on the recording, as Jones and the operator talked, the door chimes from Jones' SUV sounded, indicating he stepped out as Raja approached. It recorded an exchange where Raja repeatedly asks variations of "You good?" to which Jones repeatedly replies that he is. Raja never says he is a police officer in the recording.
Suddenly, the officer shouts, using an expletive, for Jones to put his hands up.
Jones replies: "Hold on!" And Raja repeats his demand.
Raja then fired three shots in less than two seconds, according to the charging documents. Ten seconds of silence then pass before three more shots, each fired about a second apart, are heard.
Immediately after the shooting, Raja used his personal cellphone to call 911. As the operator answered 33 seconds after the last shot was fired, according to charging documents, Raja yelled at someone to drop the gun even though Jones' autopsy showed a bullet had pierced his heart and lungs and would have felled him almost immediately.
Raja told the 911 dispatcher that he had identified himself as a police officer and that he began firing as Jones came at him with a gun, prosecutors say. He said he continued firing because Jones was pointing his gun at him as he ran away.
When Raja's sergeant and other officers arrived, they found Jones' body between some trees almost 200 feet from the back of his SUV. A police dog found Jones' gun about 75 feet from his SUV, near where Raja told his sergeant he had seen Jones throw it. The safety was on and it had fired no shots.
Prosecutors say in their charging document that given the distance between the gun and Jones' body — and the heart wound that would have incapacitated him — they believe Raja fired the last three shots after he knew Jones had thrown down his gun and was running away.
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