Attorney Scott Richardson, and Nouman Raja, right, watch as prospective jurors for his trial run the courtroom Monday, Feb. 25, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Fla. Raja, a former Palm Beach Gardens police officer, is charged with shooting and killing the stranded motorist Corey Jones on Oct. 18, 2015. He is accused of manslaughter by culpable negligence, while armed and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm. (Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post via AP, Pool)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Opening statements are expected Tuesday in the trial of a fired Florida police officer who is charged with the fatal 2015 the shooting of a stranded black motorist.
Prosecutors are expected to tell the four-man, two-woman jury that the former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja’s actions made the 31-year-old Corey Jones confuse him for a robber, and pull his legally owned gun, causing Raja to shoot him. Raja was working in plain clothes, as he drove his unmarked white van the wrong way on a dark Interstate 95 onramp. Prosecutors say an audio show Raja, 41, never identified himself as a police officer.
Raja’s lawyers are expected to argue he did identify himself and that he shot Jones in self-defense. Raja, who is of South Asian descent, get a life sentence if convicted of murder and attempted murder.
It is the first time in 26 years that a Florida police officer is on trial for an on-duty killing, and one of the Raja’s defense will be the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law. It says 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, but the shooter was not the aggressor.
Jones, a part-time drummer 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 and had a concealed weapons permit.
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 last Florida officer tried for an on-duty killing was Miami William Lozano. The Spanish officer fatally shot a black motorcyclist who he said tried to hit him in 1989. 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 later that year, 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.
Raja’s process is expected to take two to three weeks.