Making Sense of Corey Jones’ Senseless Death

At Fault Lines, Greg Prickett runs though the details of Corey Jones’ last few minutes, revealed because his call to roadside assistance was being recorded.  The Palm Beach Gardens probationary cop who killed Jones, Nouman Raja, has since been fired from the job and charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder.  The charges came after a grand jury determined that the killing was “unjustified.”*

Greg, viewing this through the eyes of a guy who spent 20 years on the job, doesn’t take this lightly.

So the grand jury found that the shooting was not justified. And now [State’s Attorney Dave] Aronberg was in a bad spot. Grand juries always find for the police officer, only they didn’t do that here, and Aronberg had to make the call himself. So he charged Raja with Attempted Murder (for the non-fatal shots) and for Manslaughter by Culpable Negligence (for the fatal shot).

Huh?

OK, lets get this straight. Raja was actively trying to kill Jones but failed, justifying the Attempted Murder, but the actual fatal shot was due to negligence? Really?

The backstory ranges from bad to worse, a plainclothes cop in an unmarked van wearing no indicia of being a cop and shooting without provocation, then lying about it. No, the shooting was “unjustified.”  And for all this, Greg’s prediction is that Raja will be acquitted.

It’s not going to matter, Raja is going to be acquitted. You see, Jones was found dead 64 yards from his vehicle. His pistol was found 24 yards from the vehicle, 40 yards from Jones. Jones was hit three times; in the right arm, in the left elbow, and the chest. If Jones was holding his pistol in his left hand and was hit in his elbow, it would be likely that Jones would drop the gun and run. It is entirely likely that Raja would not notice that the weapon was dropped and would continue to fire at Jones, then striking him in the chest.

What makes this focus curious is the manner in which we strive to find a rational basis for a cop killing a guy.  Had Raja not been a cop, would there be any blind assumptions made to explain the killing? Would we talk about how Jones would have dropped the gun after being shot in the left elbow and run? Notice that we assume Jones was holding the gun? There is nothing in the recorded final exchange that shows that to be the case. Why not assume his lawfully carried gun was tucked into his waist and fell out when he started running, after Raja started firing?

He might be convicted, Raja will have to testify to really make his defense case, and the prosecution can shred him on his background, but Raja was a police officer. That means that he is a trained witness. He knows how to testify and how to minimize problems. So if his defense attorney can raise a reasonable doubt, Raja will walk.

Among the things police officers are trained to do is be an effective witness, meaning deflect when they’re caught in lies or contradictions, explain away their failures with the smart use of excuses. At the same time, prosecutors are notably inept at cross-examination, as they rarely get a chance to hone their skills.

Aside from how this will play out on the witness stand, there remain the built-in assumptions, that Raja, the cop, would never have simply approached Corey Jones and murdered him in cold blood. Cops don’t do such things. Why would they? They didn’t know each other. Raja didn’t have any hatred for Jones. Raja got nothing out of killing Jones. So it wouldn’t have been intentional murder.

That’s a shame, because it is clear that Raja caused the death of Jones and it was entirely unneeded and unnecessary.

Obviously, it was “entirely unneeded and unnecessary.” After a needless killing, it’s right, and rare, that the cop be prosecuted. In the scheme of legitimate reasons for the exercise of prosecution, the purpose is deterrence, to “send a message” to police that they shouldn’t kill people needlessly. The problem with this, as with all deterrence messages, is that they make more sense from the distance of calm logic than in the heat of the moment.

This isn’t to say a cop shouldn’t be prosecuted, but that the notion that the prosecution will cause an officer to hesitate, to make sure someone needs to die before they kill him, may not serve to achieve the goal.  The purpose isn’t to get the cop, but to save the life of the person who would otherwise be needlessly killed.

And this is where the assumptions, made by almost everyone, come into play. Raja did everything wrong. To Corey Jones, he was a random guy on a highway at 3 in the morning giving his orders with a gun. To us, he’s a police officer. So instead of viewing Raja as a killer, we allow our minds to play a game to make sense of his conduct.  While no scenario plays out well for Raja, we still make the effort. It’s an effort we would never make had Raja not been a cop.

We can reasonably surmise that Raja’s shooting Jones was motivated by the First Rule of Policing, since we have no basis to believe that Raja had any nefarious motivation. And we accept the premise that the First Rule has some merit, some level of acceptability, because we accept the premise that police officers face risks that others don’t, and are therefore entitled to be the first to fire in the fact of a perceived threat.  Even the law imbues cops with magical powers to see indicia of threats that other eyes can’t see, which means they get to shoot and kill well before anyone else would think there is any threat.

This is where the message is never sent, that the First Rule is not a license to kill.  That a cop’s life isn’t any more valuable, any more worth saving or protecting, than anyone else’s.  A cop’s life is no less valuable, but no more. And yet we, as well as police and prosecutors, struggle to make sense of a cop killing someone needlessly, because we tacitly accept the premise of the First Rule just as much as cops do. We accept the fact that they get to shoot before a threat, real or imagined, because they are entitled to walk away, no matter what. Because they are cops.

*Had anyone but a cop fired bullets into Corey Jones, the question would not be whether the killing as “justified.” The presumption would have been murder. Only a cop begins with the presumption of justification, to be rebutted by evidence.

13 thoughts on “Making Sense of Corey Jones’ Senseless Death

  1. DaveL

    So he charged Raja with Attempted Murder (for the non-fatal shots) and for Manslaughter by Culpable Negligence (for the fatal shot).

    So what’s going on here? I’ve never heard of such a pattern of charges. Typically when one person shoots at another person without justification until the latter is dead, that’s what we would call ‘murder’, not a string of attempted murders followed by manslaughter. Is Florida law amenable to the same kind of loophole that was exploited in Illinois in the Dante Servin case?

    1. SHG Post author

      I can’t make sense of it either, but perhaps a Florida lawyers see something here that we do not. Perhaps it’s a reflection of lack of specific intent, although shooting at a guy over and over seems sufficiently intentional.

      1. Marc R

        [Ed. Note: link deleted per rules.]

        There’s been a lot of recent cases here dealing with the number of steps between certain classes of crimes and the allowed lesser included offenses. Obviously the State can’t mean the officer’s non fatal shots were intended to kill Jones yet the bullets that actually caused his death were the result of merely reckless and dangerous discharges of the firearm; and those rounds were fired with a different intent than the attempted murder bullets.

        1. DaveL

          Well, if that meaning is obviously out, what are we left with? I struggle to interpret those charges in any other way.

    2. pavlaugh

      These certainly are weird charges. The unit of prosecution in a homicide case is the decedent, i.e., a defendant can be convicted of only one murder/manslaughter charge per decedent per incident. I haven’t looked at double jeopardy in a while, but I’d be curious to see that argument here.

      FL must work different from TX. In TX, the state can charge the most serious crime (murder) and then get a jury charge on lesser includeds like attempt/manslaughter after trial at the charge conference. The only time I’ve ever seen the State start with manslaughter/negligent homicide indictments is in car wreck cases where there’s absolutely no evidence of intent to kill.

  2. Catherine Mulcahey

    This is from a summary of phone records released by the State’s Attorney’s office:

    Raja: “Get your (expletive) hands up! Drop!”

    Within two seconds, three shots ring out.

    Ten seconds later, three more shots ring out, one shot per second.

    33 seconds after the final shot is fired: Raja calls 911 on his personal cellphone. “Drop that (expletive) gun right now!” Raja screams before the 911 dispatch operator can utter a word.

    1. SHG Post author

      But what does that tell us? The same information is contained in Greg’s post and other links, but it leads us into the same assumptions as to what it reflects.

  3. RJG Jr

    It’s a shame we don’t have the technology to figure out in what order the shots were fired. Then, the prosecutor could have lessened the charges by calling the superfluous shots desecration of a corpse.

  4. CrimsonAvenger

    Wait a minute! If the decedent were shot in the left elbow, he’d drop his gun and run, then get shot in the chest???
    If the decedent were running, wouldn’t he be shot in the back?

    Or does someone really think that after being shot twice, he’d throw his gun at the cop and charge?

    1. Greg Prickett

      There are any number of ways that Jones could have been running and still been hit in the chest. Without records from the ME, it’s mere speculation, but Raja’s first three shots could have included the left arm hit and two misses. At that point Jones could have run, Raja fires and misses, fires and hits the right arm, causing Jones to turn, and fires and hits Jones in the side with the bullet traveling through the chest (and which was reported as a chest wound).

      The point is that none of us know and will not know until further information is released.

  5. Wrongway

    “To Corey Jones, he was a random guy on a highway at 3 in the morning giving his orders with a gun. To us, he’s a police officer. So instead of viewing Raja as a killer, we allow our minds to play a game to make sense of his conduct.”

    That is an excellent point.
    Why all the guessing games & assumptions ??
    He wasn’t in uniform, or in a marked vehicle, & he didn’t have a radio, hence the 911 call. He was just a random guy driving around preying on people that had broken down.
    But because he had the uniform on earlier in the day, he gets the benefit of assumption & status ??

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