On the side of the road, Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja pulled Corey Jones’ lifeless arm up to flip over his body and then stood up, his hands and arms covered in the blood of the man he just shot to death.
The image was still fresh in Raja’s mind hours later, just before 8 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2015, when he led investigators in a walk-through of the fatal encounter for which he now has joined the rare league of officers charged criminally with taking someone’s life in the line of duty.
An audio recording and transcript of Raja’s nervous, rushed and often emotional statement were among more than 3,000 pages of documents and 50 audio and video recordings prosecutors released Tuesday. They say Raja lied several times when speaking to investigators about what led him to shoot Jones, a 31-year-old stranded motorist who was on the line with roadside assistance when Raja, in plainclothes, approached him in an unmarked van.
In his own words, Raja lamented his assumption that Jones’ broken-down car was unoccupied, said he thought of his children when he fired the shots that killed Jones and revealed that he was the one who checked Jones’ body for weapons after he and other officers discovered Jones lying on the grass beside the Interstate 95 exit at PGA Boulevard.
“I was like, ‘I need to wash this off me,’” Raja told investigators, explaining how he felt after handling Jones’ body. “And uh … the firefighter, she grabbed a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, popped it, and just started dumping it all over me, and I was just washing myself.”
Raja, then 38, told investigators he thought Jones’ SUV to be unoccupied. He said that he identified himself as a police officer and asked Jones if he needed help. He said Jones said he was “good,” then “jumped back” and brandished a weapon.
A roadside assistance call discovered much later doesn’t indicate Raja identified himself at all, which is the most disputed fact since State Attorney Dave Aronberg charged Raja in June. Local police union leaders have argued that it’s “obvious” he identified himself as a police officer.
Failed to practice what he preached
Raja, who with just seven months at the department was still on probation, was fired a month after the shooting.
On the night of his fatal encounter with Jones, according to investigators’ interviews with Raja’s colleagues, the officer was thought of as a “go-to guy” and had recently helped detectives in helping get a confession from a burglary suspect.
Several times, Raja mentioned that he trained officers at the police academy at Palm Beach State College, a position he also lost in the wake of Jones’ death.
He said he always trained officers to assume a vehicle on the side of the road was occupied until they could prove otherwise, but said he was somehow convinced that no one was in Jones’ broken-down SUV. He said he thought the driver must have gone to get gas.
Raja drove against traffic up the southbound off-ramp to park nearly perpendicular to Jones’ Hyundai Santa Fe.
“Like, if I knew there was a guy inside, why the (expletive), I wouldn’t do something stupid like this by pulling in front of the car like that,” Raja told investigators, adding that he called and received permission from a supervisor to investigate.
Already caught by surprise when he saw someone in the car, just moments later, Raja after a brief encounter with Jones fired six shots, including the three that hit Jones and killed him.
Raja told officers that he first fired two or three shots, then called 911 as he said Jones was running away. In narrative form, he describes seeing Jones spin around, seeing “like a metallic flash” coming from Jones’ body, and firing again at Jones while a dispatcher urged him to get his police radio, which was still in the van.
Raja’s statement, however, directly contradicts the recording from Jones’ roadside assistance call, investigators’ reports and Raja’s 911 call itself. Investigators say that based on the timing of the roadside assistance call that captured the entire shooting, Raja called 911 about 33 seconds after he fired the last shot — a point where autopsy reports concluded Jones was either already dead or dying in the grass.
The audio recording from the shooting was part of an FBI re-enactment released in court records Tuesday, which Jones’ brother, Clinton “C.J.” Jones Jr., and Jones’ closest friend, Clarence Ellington III, both said confirmed their suspicions on how Jones died.
“After hearing audio and seeing video on what happened to my brother, it was and clearly is a violation to any human on this earth,” C.J. Jones said. “For this so-called cop to not even give my brother a chance to say who or what he was or why he was there means that Raja’s intentions were premeditated and he knew what he was going to do to Corey.”
In the interview, Raja said Jones simply didn’t say enough during their encounter. All Jones said was that he was “good,” Raja said, adding that Jones said this even before he supposedly identified himself as a police officer — another direct contradiction to the roadside assistance recording. Raja said Jones then pulled a gun on him.
“It’s just like, you know, your family flashed in front of you, your kids flashed in front of you, and you’re just like (expletive),” Raja said.
Raja, who left his vest, his police radio and his department-issued weapon in the van, recalled an encounter with his wife just the night before the shooting.
He had come home in plainclothes, dressed much like he was dressed when he approached Jones. She questioned him about his appearance, he said, and he told her he’d been doing surveillance.
“And the first words out of her mouth was, ‘Where’s your vest?’” Raja recalled. “I’m like: ‘Honey, it’s inside the van. It’s next to me. If I need it, I can throw it on and everything.’”
“All I could think of was my (expletive) kids, man,” Raja said, his voice breaking before telling the investigator. “I’m sorry.”
Raja apologized several times to investigators during the interview, and several times the investigator told him to slow down and catch his breath. He later said he remembered pulling the trigger but doesn’t remember the sound of gunfire. Such temporary losses of hearing have been reported among officers involved in line-of-duty shootings.
His colleagues at Palm Beach Gardens police apparently thought the shooting had affected him so much that Officer Robert Boschen said police administrators encouraged officers to reach out to Raja.
In the same statement, Boschen wished aloud that the case against Raja, set for a hearing with Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer early next month, would end quickly.
“I wish we could hit fast-forward in life right now and have this whole thing wrapped up in a bow whether it be good, bad or indifferent,” Boschen said. “Because it doesn’t involve me. It doesn’t involve everyone else. It involves one officer and one subject and now we’re kind of — hate to say it — all paying the penance for whatever decisions were made by whatever party.”
Staff writers Lawrence Mower, Pat Beall, Christine Stapleton, Joe Capozzi and Sarah Peters contributed to this story.