WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – For the first time in 26 years, a Florida police officer is on trial for an on-duty deaths — and one of his defense will be the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law.
The process of dismissals of Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja begins with the selection of the jury Thursday. He is accused of manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder for 2015 the shooting of Corey Jones. Jones, a 31-year-old black musician, had just gotten out of his broken down SUV when he was confronted by a Raja, who was dressed in plainclothes and driving an unmarked white van. The shooting happened in the middle of some very notorious killing of black men by police officers across the country, what leads to persecution. Raja, 41, could face life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors say an audio recording shows Raja never identified himself. They say that caused Jones, who had a concealed weapons permit to pull a gun, because he feared that he was robbed. They say Raja kept firing after he saw Jones throw away his gun, and lied to investigators about it.
“Absolutely nothing about him (Raja), provided that there is no indication that he represented a police station,” prosecutor Brian Fernandes wrote in court documents, calling Raja a “rogue agent.”
Raja’s lawyers claim that he identified himself and feared for his life as Jones drew his gun. They argued that Raja should be protected under the stand your ground law, which says that anyone with a legitimate fear of imminent danger can use deadly force. The law also says it is up to the prosecutors to prove that the person fears missing or unreasonable. An exception is that the person is not the first aggressor.
“Officer Raja was certainly not a criminal,” lead lawyer Richard Lubin wrote in court filings. “The inescapable fact is that Mr Jones raised his gun at Officer Raja.”
Raja’s lawyers have asked Judge Joseph Marx to move the trial. They say that the coverage by the local news media has included harmful material, including a grand jury’s finding that the shooting was unjustified; that the researchers concluded Raja lied; and that the previous judge rejected his first stand your ground claim.
Marx says that he will consider the request if the six-person jury could not be placed. In Florida criminal case, only in the first-degree-murder trials get 12 jurors.
The last Florida officer tried for an on-duty killing was Miami William Lozano in 1989. The Spanish officer fatally shot a black motorcyclist who he said tried to hit him. A passenger died when the engine crashed. The death resulted in three days of riots.
Lozano was convicted of two murder counts in a Miami trial, but a court of appeal rejected the ruling, saying the case should be moved because of the racial tensions. Lozano was acquitted in 1993 a new trial in Orlando.
Jones, who also worked as a housing inspector, was returning home from a nightclub performance, from early in the morning of Oct. 18, 2015, when his SUV broke down on an off-ramp of Interstate 95. His drums, to the value of 10,000 dollars, were in the back. Jones, the brother of former National Football League player C. J. Jones, had just bought a .38-caliber pistol for protection.
Raja spotted Jones’ SUV about 3:15 a.m. He was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap, because he was investigating car break-ins. His sergeant testified at a hearing that he told Raja don a vest marked with “police” if he faces anyone, but the vest is found in the unmarked van.
Raja drove the off-ramp, the block of Jones’ SUV. He told Palm Beach County sheriff’s investigators that when Jones came, he identified himself, but then dismissed because Jones pulled a gun. He said Jones ran a dike and pointed the gun again, so he fired more shots. Jones died at the scene.
Researchers have said that Raja did not know that Jones spoke with a tow truck dispatcher on a recorded line. Raja has never heard of identification of themselves.
Jones is first heard, saying, “Huh?” just before Raja yells, “You good?” Jones says that he is. Raja twice to answer: “Really?” with Jones answer “Yes.”
Suddenly, Raja shouts at Jones to raise his hands, using an expletive. Jones answers, “Hold on!” and Raja repeated his question. The prosecutors believe that it was then that Jones drew his gun. Raja fired three shots. Ten seconds later, Raja fired three shots.
Prosecutors say Raja saw Jones throw down his gun, but kept shooting, that is the reason why he is accused of attempted murder. The researchers were not able to determine when the fatal shot was fired, but it fell to Jones in the back.
Raja then used his personal cell phone to call 911 with the operator of the picking up of 33 seconds after the last shot. Raja is recorded yelling orders to drop the gun; the prosecutors say that he is trying to mislead researchers to believe that he had not seen the gun being thrown. Jones’ body was found 200 feet (60 metres) of the SUV and 125 feet (38 meters) from its pot to the gun.
Palm Beach Gardens fired Raja, that his employee is a probationary period after the transfer of months earlier from a neighboring town. He was charged in 2016 and is under house arrest.
The trial is expected to be three weeks.