WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Relatives of a legally armed Black musician who was fatally shot by a police officer while waiting for a tow truck said Thursday that after meeting with prosecutors they remain leery but are also more hopeful about the decision to present the case to a grand jury.
The father, stepmother and siblings of Corey Jones told a press conference that after meeting with Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and his assistants Wednesday afternoon that the prosecutors have the necessary “passion” to pursue charges against since-fired Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja. Still, they say they remain disappointed that Aronberg didn’t simply charge Raja himself.
“We were very angry at first,” said C.J. Jones, Corey Jones’ brother. “We are a little leery of the whole thing because it is under secrecy. We just want and hope that everything will be presented. There is a lot of evidence.”
Aronberg said at a Wednesday news conference that because the shooting happened along an interstate highway and near hotels, about 300 potential witnesses have been interviewed but, citing state law, said he could not discuss what evidence investigators have collected. Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney, said they were told an audiotape of events leading up to the shooting exists, but they were not told details.
Crump said the family is right to feel leery given that while prosecutors get indictments in “99.9999 percent” of cases they present to grand juries, such panels often fail to indict police officers who have shot black males under questionable circumstances, citing shootings in Cleveland, Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York. He said Aronberg and his staff can get an indictment against Raja if that is their desire.
“If the prosecutors want an indictment from a grand jury, they will return an indictment. If they don’t want an indictment, then the grand jury won’t indict,” Crump said.
Raja’s attorney, Richard Lubin, said he and his client are looking forward to the grand jury process. Brian Fernandes, the Aronberg assistant who will present the case to the grand jury, said Wednesday that getting a grand jury indictment isn’t as easy as outsiders believe. A decision is expected by June 30.
Jones had left a gig before dawn Oct. 18 when his SUV broke down on an Interstate 95 off ramp in Palm Beach Gardens. A fellow band member tried unsuccessfully to jumpstart the vehicle, then left Jones, 31, to await a tow truck along a dark interstate ramp in the affluent city north of West Palm Beach. Jones, who was also a housing inspector, had a concealed weapons permit and was legally allowed to carry the gun. His family said he carried a gun because he was hauling expensive equipment.
At the time, Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp said Raja, who is of South Asian ancestry, had been investigating local burglaries. He stopped to check out what he thought was an abandoned vehicle and “was suddenly confronted by an armed subject.”
Raja was in an unmarked car. He was on-duty but not in uniform.
Raja fired six shots at Jones, hitting him three times, officials said. Police later recovered a .38-caliber handgun at the scene, which Jones had bought a week earlier.
His family and lawyers have insisted he would not have had his gun out as Raja approached if he had identified himself as a police officer or shown a badge.
“It has been a hard six months to get justice for my son, Corey,” said his father, Clinton Jones Sr. “A good kid. A loving kid. A kind kid. And for something like this to happen to him, I’m angry. I’m angry because this shouldn’t have happened.”
Palm Beach Gardens fired Raja after the shooting. He had only been on the force six months after seven years with a neighboring department. Stepp decided that he had failed his probationary period.