WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — An undercover police officer is never heard identifying himself before he fatally shot a black drummer whose car had broken down on the interstate, according to evidence released Tuesday by prosecutors who have charged him with manslaughter.
The Palm Beach County state attorney's office released thousands of documents, photos and video and audio recordings to former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja's attorneys and the public, including recordings of two phone calls and Raja's interview with investigators hours after the shooting.
Those recordings played key roles in prosecutors charging Raja, 39, last year with manslaughter and attempted murder for the October 2015 shooting of 31-year-old Corey Jones, whose SUV had broken down on an Interstate 95 off ramp before dawn as he returned home from a performance.
Raja, who is of South Asian descent, has pleaded not guilty and his attorneys and union have said the shooting was justified as Jones was armed.
Jones, who also worked as a housing department inspector, was sitting in his SUV talking to a tow truck dispatcher when Raja, who was investigating car burglaries, drove an unmarked white van the wrong way up the off ramp, according to records.
Wearing a T-shirt and jeans, Raja got out of the van and came toward Jones, who had a Florida concealed carry permit for the handgun. His family said he had just purchased the gun to protect the expensive drum gear in his vehicle's trunk.
As Raja neared the SUV, the door chime began sounding, the recording shows, indicating Jones had opened the door.
As he apparently exited, Jones told Raja, "No. I'm good. Yeah, I'm good."
"Really?" Raja replied, with Jones quickly responding "Yeah."
Suddenly Raja yelled for Jones to raise his hands, twice using profanity. Jones responded, "Hold on. Hold on." Raja again, using profanity, told him to raise his hands before firing two shots.
Jones began running down an embankment and into the grass as Raja fired several more shots, killing him. Jones' unfired gun was found about 75 feet from his SUV. Jones' body was found another 125 feet away.
In a 911 call that prosecutors say Raja placed about 30 seconds later, the officer yells for Jones to drop his gun even though they say he knew Jones had been felled by his shots.
About four hours after the shooting, Raja told Palm Beach County sheriff's detective Kenny Smith in a voluntary interview that he had walked up to the van thinking it was unoccupied and that he was surprised when he saw Jones inside.
"The door swung open and, uh, this guy jumps outside immediately," Raja told Smith. "He got out of the van and then he's like, 'I'm OK, I'm OK man.' And at which point I said, 'Hey, man, police, can I help you?' And the second I said police, he jumped back and I clearly remember him drawing and...pointing a gun at me." He said he ordered Jones to drop the gun and then fired when he didn't.
"It's just like, you know, your family flashed in front of you, your kids flashed in front of you," Raja told Smith. He said he called 911 as he was chasing Jones and fired again only after Jones turned back toward him with the gun.
The recording of the 911 call contains no gunshots.
Raja was fired shortly after the shooting. Jones' family is suing him and the Palm Beach Gardens police.
A court hearing is set for Feb. 21. There, a date for Raja's criminal trial could be scheduled.