Hours after he shot and killed musician Corey Jones on the side of Interstate 95, Palm Beach Gardens police detective Nouman Raja toured the crime scene with investigators, emotionally insisting that he had no choice but to fire.
Jones, the officer told investigators in a newly released audio statement, jumped out of his broken-down SUV on that night in October 2015.
“And the second I said ‘police,’ he jumped back and I clearly remember him drawing and … pointing a gun at me. I saw that silver muzzle, and he had, I can swear on this, he had a Laser Max laser and the guide rod on the gun, and I saw that red light, with that Laser Max flashing at me,” Raja said.
Raja claimed that he barked out, “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!”
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“And he, and he didn’t,” Raja said. “He was right there. And I remember pulling the trigger, I think two to three times, and he started running.”
The audio statement provides the public with Raja’s firsthand account — and one that Palm Beach prosecutors believe was an outright lie, contradicted by audio recorded on Jones’ phone and other evidence.
The trove of documents — including witness statements, audio and video files and even an FBI computer recreation of the shooting — was released to the media on Tuesday by the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office.
The killing of Jones, a beloved musician whose car had broken down on the side of the road, was another in a slew of recent fatal police shootings of black men across the country, sparking protests and renewing scrutiny on law-enforcement tactics.
But unlike many other cases in which prosecutors have declined to file charges, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office charged Raja with manslaughter and attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Raja, a plainclothes detective who investigated car burglaries, has since been fired by the Palm Beach Gardens police department.
Jones, 31, a Boynton Beach musician, had been driving after a late-night gig in Jupiter with his reggae band when his SUV broke down on the side of the highway. After a friend and a Road Ranger tried to help — Jones didn’t want to leave his expensive drum set in the broken-down van — Jones called AT&T roadside assistance for help.
The audio from that AT&T call was released on Monday and starkly countered Raja's version of events.
As he was waiting for help on the phone call, Raja pulled his unmarked police van in front of the broken-down van just before dawn. He claimed he thought the SUV was empty.
Raja swore that he said, “Police, how can I help you?”
The AT&T call showed otherwise. Jones' door was open, the door chime beeping, suggesting he was outside of the car waiting when Raja walked up.
Raja said: “You good?”
Jones: “I’m good.”
Raja: “Get your f-----g hands up! Get your f-----g hands up!”
Jones: “Hold on!”
Raja: “Get your f-----g hands up! Drop!”
A state attorney's investigator later concluded that Raja was immediately hostile to Jones.
“His response, both times, was just one word: ‘Really?’ This reply was sarcastic and confrontational. It was obviously not a sincere offer of help,” Investigator Mark Anderson wrote in his report. “More importantly, the recording reveals Raja never identified himself to be a police officer.”
After the first volley, Jones ran from the car. Then came three gunshots in two seconds. “Oh my gosh,” the AT&T operator said. Ten seconds later, the audio recorded three more shots ringing out.
Police found Jones’ body 200 feet from his car and a chrome .380 handgun about 70 feet from Jones’ car. Two medical experts, in opinions released Tuesday, agreed he could have run 40 yards after being shot in the heart and lungs.
Prosecutors believe Raja called 911 more than 30 seconds later, play-acting for the dispatcher: “Drop that f****ng gun right now!” But by then, prosecutors believe, Jones could have been dead from the wounds he suffered.
Raja claimed that he fired the second volley because he saw Jones turn around and point the weapon at him.
“And, and I remember saying to myself, aim, I still remember, and I was like aim!” Raja told police. “And I put that front [sight] right in the center mass and I squeezed. I, I, think, I believe, two rounds.”
When a sergeant showed up, the two flipped over Jones to look for a gun. There was none.
“And I came back here and here was a rescue truck here, and I was covered in his blood, and I was like, ‘Uh, can you just get this off me,’ ” Raja told police. “And they took like hydrogen peroxide and just started pouring it all over me, started washing me.”