Fired Florida police officer charged in shooting of black musician

State Attorney Dave Aronberg with chief assistants Brian Fernandes and Adrienne Ellis announce officer Nouman Raja is being charged with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence and one count of attempted first degree murder with a firearm in the death of Corey Jones in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Caption
State Attorney Dave Aronberg with chief assistants Brian Fernandes and Adrienne Ellis announce officer Nouman Raja is being charged with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence and one count of attempted first degree murder with a firearm in the death of Corey Jones in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Credit: Allen Eyestone

Credit: Allen Eyestone

Staff writer Christine Stapleton contributed to this report.

“Hold on!”

That was the plea from Corey Jones to the man who approached him wearing a trucker hat, repeatedly asking him if he was "good" and then suddenly telling him to get his "(expletive) hands up!"

They are the last recorded words investigators say the 31-year-old drummer spoke before former Palm Beach Gardens police Officer Nouman Raja ended his life with a barrage of bullets.

Jones’ brother, Clinton “C.J.” Jones, Jr. considered the words for the first time Wednesday, less than 20 minutes after Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced Raja’s arrest on charges of manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first degree murder.

Aronberg, who took heavy criticism a month ago when he announced he was referring Raja’s case to a grand jury, revealed that the panel had deemed Raja’s actions in the early hours of Oct. 18 unjustified. It was Aronberg’s office, however, that ultimately concluded that there was probable cause to charge the now-fired officer who was working a burglary detail in plainclothes when he saw Jones’ broken-down Santa Fe in the southbound off-ramp of Interstate 95.

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Jones’ family expressed relief at the news, especially C.J. Jones, who said details Aronberg released in Raja’s arrest affidavit only confirmed his suspicions on what his brother’s last moments were like.

“For him to have said hold on like that, something must have happened,” C.J. Jones said, adding that investigators’ claims that Raja had never identified himself as a police officer confirmed his suspicions. “We’ve never had any reason to be scared of any cops, because we’re on the same side as them.”

Jones' family had been cautiously optimistic for charges against Raja when Aronberg announced he would be referring the case to a grand jury last month, but said they received assurances from Aronberg and Chief Assistant State Attorneys Brian Fernandes and Adrienne Ellis that they would present a "strong case" to the panel.

“We’re just thankful for it because they did what they said they were going to do,” C.J. Jones said. “We hope that anyone who has had someone they love in a situation like this gets the same.”

Jones’ family will hold a press conference at 11:30 a.m. Thursday to talk about the case. The Jones family’s legal team is headed up by Tallahassee-based attorney Benjamin Crump, who last month said they were leery of the grand jury process because “it has broken the hearts of so many in the African-American community over the years.”

Palm Beach Gardens officials said their thoughts were with the Jones family after the announcement Wednesday and expressed gratitude toward Aronberg’s office and the grand jury.

“I am very grateful to the State Attorney’s office and to the grand jury for their swift action after what has been a long process in the pursuit of justice since the death of Corey Jones. Officer Raja now will be tried by a jury of his peers, and I have faith in the system that justice will be done,” Vice Mayor Eric Jablin said.

City Council voted at its March 3 meeting, at the Banks family’s encouraging, to send a letter to the state attorney urging him to move the case along. Aronberg announced at the end of April the case would go before a grand jury.

“Clearly, the grand jury considered the evidence and did their job,” Mayor Marcie Tinsley wrote in a statement.

Shortly after word of Raja's arrest became public, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, issued a statement saying Raja's arrest "demonstrates that no one is above the law. It is also an important step forward for our community to begin to heal and to restore trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve," said Murphy.

According to Raja’s arrest report, Corey Jones made as many as five calls to an AT&T number for roadside assistance and spent 26 minutes listening to music before his calls were finally answered, according to police documents. Jones made the first call at 2:09 a.m. His final call was answered at 3:12 a.m. by an AT&T roadside assistance operator. There was no background noise during the first two minutes of the recorded call, as Jones calmly explained to the operator the problems with his vehicle.

Then, door alert chimes can be heard, indicating Jones opened the door with the keys in the ignition. The recording picked up a discussion between Raja and Jones.

Corey Jones: “Huh?’

Nouman Raja: “You good?”

Jones: “I’m good.”

Raja: “Really?”

Jones: “Yeah, I’m good.”

Raja: “Really?”

Jones: “Yeah.”

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

Jones: “Hold on!”

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

Raja fired three shots immediately after he uttered the word “drop.”

Raja could face life in prison on the charge of attempted first-degree murder with a firearm. Aronberg declined to take questions, citing the pending case against Raja.