The surrounding circumstances appear clear. It was around the middle of the night Sunday, on Route 95 as it runs through Palm Beach Gardens. Corey Jones, a 31-year-old drummer for the band Future Prezidents, had broken down after a gig, and was awaiting help. It’s no fun to sit on the side of a major highway helpless, but cars sometimes don’t leave you many choices.
A car then pulls up. Out comes a guy.
About 3:15 a.m., at the southbound exit near PGA Boulevard, Officer Nouman K. Raja stopped to investigate what he thought was an abandoned vehicle on the darkened ramp. The chief said that as Officer Raja stepped out of his vehicle, “he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject.”
Raja was driving an unmarked car. Raja was in plain clothes. Raja shot and killed Corey Jones.
He did not say whether Officer Raja identified himself as a police officer. It is not clear whether the two men exchanged words or if Mr. Jones pointed his weapon.
Corey Jones had a gun, bought three days earlier. What role, if any, that gun had in causing Raja to kill him is unknown.
Calling the encounter a “confrontation,” the chief said the officer “discharged his firearm, resulting in the death of Mr. Corey Jones.” He did not say what prompted the officer to fire.
Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen J. Stepp’s use of the passive explanation, leaving it to one’s imagination between the “discharge” of Raja’s gun and the “resulting death,” fails to hide the fact that Raja shot and killed Jones. If there are more details to emerge, they will come solely from Raja’s mouth. There was no dashcam video, no other witnesses and Corey Jones will not have a chance to offer his perspective as to what happened because he’s dead.
Was Raja on duty? If so, why was he patrolling Route 95 in an unmarked car and plain clothes? And if not, why did he stop to “investigate” what they claim he thought was an abandoned car?
The gun attributed to Jones was found on the ground. What this means, and what the gun had to do with the “confrontation,” is unknown.
Why did Raja have his weapon out to begin with? Was it because Jones had a gun when he approached, and so he pulled out a gun of his own? And if Jones had a gun out, was it because some guy who had no outward indicia of being a police officer pulled up behind him on a highway in the middle of the night?
The scenario is ripe for speculation. It seems most likely, given the few details known, that when Raja pulled up, Jones was concerned for his safety and grabbed his gun. After all, there was nothing about Raja to suggest he was there to help, or he was a police officer. The alternative is that he was there to rob Jones, maybe loot his car, but do no good.
Or Jones was just being cautious. If the guy pulling up behind him was a good Samaritan, then he would be prepared for the worst but in a position where, as soon as he learned the person’s intentions, could lower his gun and welcome his assistance.
For Raja, it would have appeared very different. After all, Raja knew he was a cop, even if he didn’t give much thought to the fact that nothing about him suggested it. What other people see doesn’t usually give a police officer pause. They focus more on their perspective, because of the First Rule of Policing. No cop wants to be the guy down because of an honest misunderstanding.
Corey Jones was neither the sort of person, nor had a motive, to threaten a cop, no less harm one. By all accounts, he was a good person, a church-going guy, employed and loved by all. Well, except Raja, but only because he didn’t know him. There was certainly no reason to suspect that Jones used his gun for any nefarious purpose toward Raja. Not that it matters.
The chief said the officer’s unmarked vehicle was not equipped with a dashboard camera, and the department does not use body cameras. He said the sheriff’s office asked him not to release public records such as radio transmissions and 911 calls.
“We are allowing the investigation to determine the facts of this case, rather than speculating or giving out unverified information,” he said.
If “public records,” like radio transmissions, exist, then it’s hard to figure out how releasing them would feed speculation or constitute unverified information. But when a cop kills a man under peculiar circumstances, there is a tendency to keep things under wraps unless the cops have a ready-made story to justify their shooting and quell the potential for questioning its propriety.
In the meantime, Raja will have a chance to clarify his story, after all the irrefutable details are in hand, and explain that he was in an untenable situation for a cop, staring down the barrel of a gun in the hands of an unknown guy on Route 95.
It may be that the guy holding the gun did so defensively, because Raja was as likely an assailant as a cop, but few will think that way. After all, Raja was a cop, and that’s enough to explain why Jones is dead and Raja is alive. Jones wouldn’t pull the trigger until he knew whether the guy who pulled up behind him, the guy driving an unmarked car, wearing plain clothes, was there for good or evil purposes.
Raja, seeing a gun, didn’t hesitate to kill. We will never be confident that the story is accurate, as the absence of video or neutral witnesses leaves us with nothing but Raja’s word. And the word of the guy who lived isn’t always trustworthy. But we do know one thing with absolute certainty. If two guys, in the middle of the night on Route 95, both had guns out for fear of the other, only one guy made the decision to fire and kill the other. So Corey Jones is dead.