Members of the Florida Legislature’s Black Caucus want Republican Gov. Rick Scott to launch an independent investigation into the police-involved shooting death of Corey Jones in Palm Beach County on Sunday, and they say the tragedy is another example of why legislation is needed to improve transparency and accountability from local police agencies.
“Once again, another young black man has been killed by being someplace he rightfully belonged in our state,” said Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, the caucus chairman.
Scott’s office said he has offered the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to Palm Beach County authorities, but he did not commit to a separate state-level investigation.
“Our office continues to monitor any developments,” Scott’s spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a statement.
Jones, a 31-year-old church drummer and Boynton Beach resident, was shot dead at around 3:15 a.m. after an encounter with a police officer when his vehicle broke down on an I-95 exit ramp in Palm Beach Gardens. The officer, Nouman Raja, was on duty in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police vehicle.
The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department said Raja was investigating what he thought was an abandoned vehicle and when Raja left his own vehicle “he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject.” Raja’s vehicle had no dash camera and he wore no body camera. The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department waited nearly two days before commenting on the shooting, after getting pressure from the local police union.
Once again, another young black man has been killed by being someplace he rightfully belonged in our state.
State Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa
“It is these types of delays and lack of evidence that continue to create distrust between communities of color and local police departments,” Narain said. “It is a source of anguish and frustration for black people nationwide, and legislative action and enforcement appears to be the only proper remedy.”
Although the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Palm Beach County State Attorney’'s Office are each looking into the shooting, Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, said “an independent and thorough investigation by an outside agency” — in this case, the FDLE — would help restore public confidence.
“This has to stop,” Powell said. “There’s no evidence that we’ve seen to indicate that this man was a trouble-maker. ... My community is frustrated and rightfully so.”
Caucus members also called on their colleagues in the Republican-led Legislature to pass bills that will increase transparency and accountability by police officers through the regulated use of body cameras and automatic, community reviews of police shootings that are deemed justified. Efforts to pass such legislation were unsuccessful last year.
Legislation on the body cameras has been filed for the 2016 session, but no hearings have been scheduled yet. House Bill 93 and Senate Bill 418 — sponsored by Democratic Reps. Shevrin Jones, of West Park, and Alan Williams, of Tallahassee, and Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale — would require police departments that use body cameras to establish policies and regulations for their use. The proposal died in the Senate last year, after passing in the House.
“Looking at the situation with Corey Jones: If this officer had been equipped with a body camera, there would be evidence to show what was the confrontation — if there was one — and what happened prior to the shooting,” Jones said. “The evidence is now up to the officer because Corey Jones is no longer living.”
Smith said the bills do not mandate the devices, because of the cost it would put on police agencies, but “it gives an opportunity for cities and an incentive for cities to take advantage of this type of technology.”
Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, said she plans to again push legislation that would require a review board to automatically look at police-involved shootings that are deemed justified by the local agency. The proposal died in committee last year without getting a hearing.