The Palm Beach Gardens police officer responsible for shooting and killing a church drummer on the side of the road was fired Wednesday after failing to identify himself before gunning down the stranded motorist. Although the victim had a gun in his possession, evidence has revealed that he never fired his weapon and was on the phone with roadside assistance when he died.
At 1:44 a.m. on October 18, church drummer Corey Jones called the Florida Highway Patrol to request roadside assistance according to phone records. While waiting for a tow truck, Jones called his friend, Mathew Huntsberger, for help. Unable to fix Jones’ broken down SUV, Huntsberger headed home around 2:30 a.m. as Jones continued making calls to #HELP, AT&T’s roadside assistance line.
At 3:10 a.m., Jones made his final call to AT&T’s roadside assistance line. Five minutes later, on-duty Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja arrived wearing plainclothes and driving an unmarked van. According to Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, Raja was not in uniform, not in a marked police vehicle, and did not show a badge to Jones before shooting him. Jones’ final call to roadside assistance ended at 4:03 a.m., for a duration of 53 minutes.
Although the Florida Highway Patrol and AT&T both refused to disclose information about Jones’ calls, the Delray Beach housing authority released a log of the calls made on his employer-issued cellphone in response to a public records request. AT&T will not comment whether Jones was on hold or speaking to a representative when he died.
Wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap instead of a uniform, Raja pulled up in an unmarked department-issued van not equipped with police lights. Since Raja was not wearing a body camera and none of the department’s cars are fitted with dashcams, no videos recorded the incident. Working a burglary detail in plainclothes, it remains unclear why Raja decided to pull over and inspect a broken down vehicle instead of notifying the Florida Highway Patrol.
After reportedly shooting Jones three times, Raja was immediately placed on paid administrative leave. On Thursday, city spokeswoman Candice Temple announced that Raja had been fired from the department.
“The City of Palm Beach Gardens has been cautiously and methodically considering the employment status of Officer Nouman Raja,” the city said in a statement. “Therefore, Officer Raja, a probationary employee with the City, has been terminated from employment effective Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 5:00 PM.”
Although prosecutors have not filed charges against Raja, Temple confirmed that an independent criminal investigation into the shooting incident is ongoing. Shortly after Raja was fired, Jones’ family released a statement.
“While we are pleased that the city of Palm Beach Gardens has terminated the employment of the officer who gunned down Corey Jones, we maintain that the officer in question also must be held criminally liable for his reckless actions that night,” they said. “Our family remains hopeful that the outside agencies brought in to investigate Corey’s killing will soon begin to yield factual information about how and why this officer acted so callously.”
In an interview with USA TODAY, Melissa Jones explained that her brother was licensed to carry a weapon and purchased his first gun about 18 months ago to protect himself and his expensive drum equipment during late-night shows. After reporting his first gun stolen, Jones legally purchased another gun three days before his death. It remains unknown whether Raja saw Jones holding a gun or a cellphone in his hand when the plainclothes officer killed him.
“Through all of the sorrow and pain that accompanied Corey’s death, our family is encouraged by the multitude of well-wishers who have reached out to us during this difficult time,” said Jones’ family. “It is obvious that Corey touched many lives and for that we will be forever grateful.”