It will be up to a grand jury to decide whether a former police officer should face charges in the fatal shooting of a legally armed black musician who was waiting on the side of the road for a tow truck, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said during a news conference that his office would continue its investigation of former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja in the death of Corey Jones and present the case to a grand jury.
“The goal is to do justice,” Aronberg said. “I would ask people not to reach final judgments until after the process is completed.”
Through songs and pictures, Jones’ family reacted to the state attorney’s decision after the announcement.
“It was a lot of disappointment in the decision,” said Kenneth Banks, Jones’ uncle. “We thought they had enough time but we are gonna press on. It just motivated us a little bit more to press on to see what justice looks like in our eyes and our community’s eyes.”
Jones had left a gig before dawn Oct. 18 when his SUV broke down on an Interstate-95 off ramp in Palm Beach Gardens. A fellow band member tried unsuccessfully to jumpstart the vehicle, then left Jones, 31, to await a tow truck along a dark interstate ramp in the affluent city north of West Palm Beach.
At the time, Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp said Raja, who is of South Asian ancestry, had been investigating local burglaries. He stopped to check out what he thought was an abandoned vehicle and “was suddenly confronted by an armed subject.”
Raja was in an unmarked car. He was on-duty but not in uniform.
Raja fired six shots at Jones, hitting him three times, officials said. Police later recovered a .38-caliber handgun at the scene, which Jones had bought a week earlier. Jones had a concealed weapons permit and was legally allowed to carry the gun, which his family said he kept because he was hauling expensive equipment.
His family and lawyers have insisted he would not have had his gun out as Raja approached if he had identified himself as a police officer or shown a badge.
“While we are pleased to learn that the officer who senselessly killed our Corey will face a grand jury for his reckless act, we understand that nothing can bring back our son, brother and friend,” the family said in a statement. “Our goal now as a family is to ensure that this never happens to another innocent citizen.”
The department fired Raja after the shooting, which led to rallies and protests.
Investigators with the State Attorney’s Office have already interviewed 230 people, many of whom were staying at hotels along the busy interstate, Aronberg said. He added that his office has remained in contact with Jones’ family and tried to be as thorough and transparent as possible.
“This is the most ridiculous highjacking of justice I’ve ever seen or heard of in my life,” said Edward Rodgers, a former judge. “And Mr. Aronberg, I told him so at the last public meeting, he should be ashamed of himself pretending to look out for people and help.”
Despite the harsh criticism, Jones’ family said they will continue to meet with the state attorney and wait for justice.
There have been two other police-involved shootings since Aronberg, a Democrat, took office in 2012. The grand jury found that both of those were justified, said assistant state attorney Brian Fernandes.
Aronberg is up for re-election this year.
Jones was a housing inspector and part-time drummer who performed with local bands. He had attended The University of Akron as a marketing major and mentored with My Brother’s Keeper, an organization that helps black youth.
Raja’s van had no dashboard camera, and Palm Beach Gardens officers do not wear body cameras.
The Associated Press contributed to this report