Editorial: Raja’s ‘fear for life’ excuse falls flat

There are things we have long known about the October 2015 tragic shooting of Corey Jones by former Palm Beach Gardens Police officer Nouman Raja.

That Raja, while working a plainclothes detail to prevent car burglaries in parking lots, shot Jones to death on an Interstate 95 off-ramp.

That Raja drove his unmarked white police surveillance van up the off-ramp and parked “aggressively” in front of Jones’ broken down Hyundai SUV.

That when he got out of his van to confront Jones, Raja was wearing nothing — including a badge or protective vest — that immediately identified him as a police officer.

But if we are to believe some 3,000 pages of documents, and 50 audio and video recordings released by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office last week, we now also know that Raja “lied” to investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

And if Raja did indeed lie, that makes this whole saga all the more painful — for Jones’ family, and our community.

Why? Palm Beach County has been walking a dangerous tightrope with police shootings for years. Their preponderance was the subject of an award-winning series by The Palm Beach Post investigative team. And the Jones shooting was the focus of a series of award-winning editorials by this editorial board.

What has kept a lid on things, despite the feelings laid bare by the Jones shooting, has been the reasonable assumption — pushed by the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association — that Raja clearly identified himself as “police” before the fatal encounter.

That’s because the crux of any defense that Raja may mount in this case is that he was in fear for his life. He has been charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm,

Indeed, it is still possible that Raja did fear for his life when he fired six shots at Jones, killing him with a shot to the chest. But, according to the evidence — and common sense — it wasn’t because of anything Jones had done wrong.

Raja told prosecutors that after he pulled up to the SUV about 3:15 a.m., he got out and “clearly” and repeatedly identified himself as a police officer after confronting Jones. He even offered to help Jones, Raja said.

But the recording of a tow truck call to AT&T Roadside Assistance, also released Tuesday, revealed Jones twice telling Raja, “I’m good.”

“Really?” Raja replied twice.

“This reply was sarcastic and confrontational,” the investigator wrote in his report. “It was obviously not a sincere offer of help. More importantly, the recording reveals Raja never identified himself to be a police officer.”

Raja told investigators he thought Jones’ vehicle was unoccupied. As a result, he told investigators, he left his badge, duty gun and protective vest in his van. He did carry his department-approved backup gun in a waistband holder.

“I kinda got like caught with my pants down at that point,” Raja said. “I said, ‘Hey, man, police, can I help you?’ And the second I said police, he jumped back and I clearly remember him drawing and … pointing a gun at me,” Raja told investigators.

The evidence raises questions about the sequence of events, however. And Jones, whose legally owned firearm was found 80 feet from his lifeless body, never fired a shot.

But today, the family of the 31-year-old Delray Beach Housing Authority building manager and part-time band drummer is grieving his death. For apparently no other reason than the fact that his car broke down around 1 a.m. in Palm Beach Gardens.

Jones’ brother, Clinton “C.J.” Jones told the Post: “I listened to every single second of the audio and video and it was pretty crazy to hear my brother’s last words basically crying out for help and a police officer was the one that killed him,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

No, it doesn’t. But getting to justice does.

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