WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Relatives of a legally armed black musician who was fatally shot by a police officer while waiting for a tow truck said they are “leery” of a local prosecutor’s decision to present the case to a grand jury.
The family of Corey Jones issued a statement Wednesday, saying that while they are glad Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg didn’t clear since-fired Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja, their “hearts are heavy.” Aronberg could have charged Raja if he believed the evidence was sufficient.
“While we are leery of the grand jury process, we will remain vigilant and peacefully demand greater accountability and transparency from law enforcement,” the family said in their statement.
Family members were expected to address reporters at a Thursday news conference.
Aronberg said at a Wednesday news conference that presenting the case to a grand jury will be the best way to decide whether there is enough evidence to charge Raja. Citing state law, Aronberg said he could not discuss what evidence investigators have collected.
“The goal is to do justice,” Aronberg said. “We have been as transparent as we are allowed to be under the rules.”
Aronberg, a Democrat, is up for re-election this year. He said that played no part in his decision, but retired Circuit Judge Edward Rogers, a Jones family supporter, accused Aronberg of “taking the easy way out” by presenting the case to a grand jury.
“He doesn’t need a grand jury. It’s solely up to him. He just didn’t want to do it,” Rogers said.
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. Jones, who was also a housing inspector, had a concealed weapons permit and was legally allowed to carry the gun. His family said he carried a gun because he was hauling expensive equipment.
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.
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.
Palm Beach Gardens fired Raja after the shooting. He had only been on the force six months after seven years with a neighboring department. The chief decided that he had failed his probationary period.
Stepp told a rally Wednesday outside Palm Beach Gardens City Hall that the department has enacted a number of changes since the shooting ranging from officer use of body cameras to improved training.
“We can’t bring Corey Jones back and for that I am truly sorry. But we can use his tragic death as a catalyst for change,” Stepp told two dozen Jones family members and supporters.
(Photo Source: AP)