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On Corey Jones’ birthday, family lobbies Capitol for body-camera bill

The family of Corey Jones came Wednesday to the Florida Capitol to release black and white balloons on what would have been his 32nd birthday and to carry a message to Gov. Rick Scott.

Legislation that would require policies and procedures for law enforcement agencies using body cameras is advancing in the House and Senate. But the Rev. Clinton Jones, who tearfully remembered Corey as a “great son,” said he had a simple request of the Republican governor.

“Help me,” Clinton Jones said, flanked by family members and his legal team, just steps from Scott’s office. “Help me pass this piece of legislation. Not only for my son. But for other sons…This is justice for the nation, for everybody.”

Corey Jones, 31, a public-housing inspector and part-time musician, was waiting for a tow truck on the off-ramp of Interstate 95 at PGA Boulevard about 3:15 a.m. on Oct. 18 when he was shot six times by then-Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja, who arrived at the scene in plain clothes driving an unmarked white van.

Raja has since been fired by the department.

Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp said Raja, 38, told them he was “suddenly confronted by an armed subject” and fatally shot Jones.

Jones, though, was licensed to carry a concealed gun and probably did not know he was being confronted by a police officer, said Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who has represented the families of several slain African-Americans including Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

“Corey’s law is not just for Corey, it’s for everybody,” said Crump. “This could’ve been anyone’s loved one at the side of the road at three in the morning. Imagine how vulnerable you’d feel if a white van pulled up and a stranger in jeans and a t-shirt and a baseball cap runs up on you. And you’re supposed to acquiesce and know this was a police officer.”

Corey Jones was a professional drummer who worked by day as a property manager for the Delray Beach Housing Authority.

His sister, Melissa, said Wednesday that her brother “was so peaceful.”

“He wasn’t a criminal guy who looked for trouble,” she said. “My brother would never have risen a gun to an officer. He was wise. He understood how to handle situations.”

Lawyers and the family delivered a letter to the governor’s office, but did not get a meeting with Scott. Instead, Scott attended a Capitol event promoting jobs and his $1 billion tax-cut package aimed at businesses.

Asked about the body camera legislation, Scott was noncommittal, saying, “I’ll look at legislation as it makes it to my desk.”

Not all members of Corey Jones’ immediate family traveled to Tallahassee. His brother, Clinton “CJ” Jones Jr., stayed at home in Lantana, where he, his wife, their daughters and a few friends planned to have dinner Wednesday night, followed by ice cream cake from Carvel, Corey’s favorite.

Three agencies are now investigating Raja’s shooting of Jones — the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office, the Palm Beach County’s Sheriff’s Office and the FBI.

The Jones’ family and their lawyers said Wednesday they were frustrated by the slow pace of the probe. At the same time, they said it was important to get the body camera legislation approved before lawmakers adjourn, which is scheduled for March 11.

The measures (HB 93, SB 418) would require law enforcement agencies using body cameras to have guidelines for their use, maintenance and storage of data, along with policies for which officers wear cameras and when.

Raja was not wearing a body camera the night he confronted Corey Jones and there is no recording of their encounter near Jones’ broken-down SUV on the I-95 off ramp.

The Palm Beach Gardens City Council last month unanimously approved spending $262,296 to buy body cameras for its police officers.

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, also has proposed a congressional measure that would withhold federal grant money from police departments that allow plainclothes officers in unmarked cars to make routine traffic stops.

In Tallahassee, legislative analysts acknowledge that “only a small number of Florida law enforcement agencies have elected to use body cameras.” About one-third of agencies nationwide use cameras and in Florida, law enforcement representatives have resisted efforts to require their use.

The House proposal is set for a hearing Thursday in the Judiciary Committee. It’s sponsor, Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said he had initially sought to have body cameras required.

“There was a lot of push-back on it,” Rep. Jones said, adding that he was “very disappointed we can’t go further than this.”

Staff writer Daphne Duret contributed to this story.

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