Further details are slowly emerging about the death of a Florida musician who was fatally shot early Sunday by a plainclothes police officer near a highway overpass.
Police say Corey Jones, who was shot by officer Nouman Raja around 3 a.m., pulled out a gun after the officer - not in uniform - approached his car and identified himself. The officer was investigating a series of burglaries and originally approached the car believing it to be abandoned, police said.
“As the officer exited his vehicle, he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject,” Palm Beach Gardens police chief Stephen Stepp said at a press conference Tuesday. "As a result of the confrontation, the officer discharged his firearm.”
Previously, it was unclear if Mr. Jones knew Mr. Raja was a police officer because he was dressed in plainclothes and driving an unmarked passenger van, according to local station WPBF.
Jones, who was black, was a professional drummer and worked for a local housing authority. He was returning from a gig Sunday when his car broke down, according to local media reports. Mr. Raja’s race wasn’t immediately known. He has been placed on paid administrative leave, per department policy, having worked for the Palm Beach Gardens since April, the Sun Sentinel reports.
The case has left his family searching for answers about the circumstances surrounding Jones’ sudden death, wondering about how a confrontation with the officer could have turned deadly.
They said Jones, from Boynton Beach, Fla., had grown up attending local churches and frequently giving music lessons to younger relatives. He was returning Sunday from a gig with his band Future Prezidents when he was killed, the Palm Beach Post reports.
“You who are out there who is a grandparent, I wish you would feel…our grief for what we are going through,” said Bishop Sylvester Banks Sr., his grandfather, at a press conference on Tuesday outside his church, the Post reports. He called on support from local and national figures, including President Obama, who spoke out following the shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012.
The family has hired Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney who represented Mr. Martin’s family, in a search to determine more about Jones’ death.
“So the thing which happened to him, I can’t explain it, I can’t understand it, but by the help of God and our friends and loved ones, please feel us. We need your help in such a time as this,” Mr. Banks added
“He was sitting on the side of the road and got shot,” Jones' uncle, Sylvester Banks Jr., of Clearwater, Florida, told the Sun Sentinel on Monday. “We didn't find out about it until about 12 hours later.”
A source from the Palm Beach Gardens Sheriff’s department, who insisted on anonymity to speak about the case, told local station WPBF that Raja said Jones had pulled out a gun as soon as the officer identified himself as police, asking, “Police, man, are you alright.” The officer says says he fired at Jones two or three times as he stood near the driver’s side door of his car.
Jones then took off running towards a guardrail 30 feet away, Raja said, according to the source, and the officer fired at him again twice after he could see the flickering laser target of Jones’ gun.
The Palm Beach Police have not confirmed this report of Jones’ shooting. Before they formally addressed the shooting on Tuesday, the president of the department’s union criticized officials for not addressing the public sooner. The president, John Kazanjian, said officers had received death threats following the shooting, Reuters reports.
Police have said that a gun was found on the ground near Jones’ car, with a serial number that matched a box in the car showing that Jones had bought the gun three days ago.
Jones’ family had previously questioned the reports that he had a gun, saying it wasn’t consistent with the man they knew. They were still in disbelief at his death.
"It feels like a sharp pain, like a knife,” Cassandra Gibbs, Jones' cousin, told the Post. They’re calling for further accountability from the department, saying they question what happened to Jones’ car and his drums, which were inside.
“I plead to that individual [Officer Raja] that he is going to be accountable for what he has done,” said Banks, Jones’ grandfather, during his press conference. “If he had done right, or whether he’s done (wrong), he is going to be accountable for it. So come forward and tell the truth.”
This report contains material from the Associated Press.