Will lack of footage of the Corey Jones shooting prompt more body-cameras?
Without any video evidence, details of what transpired between the Florida musician and a plainclothes officer prior to the fatal shooting remain spotty.
The family of Corey Jones, a professional drummer and church musician who was killed following an altercation with a plain-clothes police officer last weekend, is asking for the release of surveillance video of the incident, the family’s attorney said.
Mr. Jones was driving home after a performance with his band in South Florida when his car broke down in the Palm Beach Gardens area. After a failed jumpstart, Jones was waiting for a tow-truck to arrive on an exit ramp to Interstate 95.
Officer Nouman Raja of the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department was investigating a string of local burglaries in the affluent area in an unmarked police car and out of uniform. He approached Jones’ car thinking it was abandoned when a confrontation occurred, according to the Palm Beach Gardens police.
The details of the confrontation are largely unknown and ended with the fatal shooting of Jones.
Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp told the Associated Press that Officer Raja was “suddenly confronted by an armed subject.” Investigators found a handgun on the ground that is believed to have been owned by Jones. Jones’s family says that he had purchased the gun three days before for protection.
Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney who has agreed to represent the family, says that Raja did not follow proper regulations. He did not call for back-up or inform his department that he was approaching the car. Doubts have been expressed over whether his identity as a policeman was properly conveyed.
"His family believes he went to his grave not knowing who this person was," Mr. Crump told CNN.
Both Jones and Raja were respected members of their communities. Jones organized a monthly event where musicians from all over South Florida would come to the Bible Church of God to play gospel music and occasional R&B late into the night. Raja had just joined the Palm Beach Gardens police department in April, but had over seven years of experience and a nearly unblemished police record.
The lack of any documentation of the event is compounding confusion and frustration over the case.
“We don’t know how many times he was shot. We don’t know whether he was shot in the back," Crump told CNN's Chris Cuomo.
Tensions are also high following protests and nationwide frustration with the number of deaths of black men at the hands of police. Jones was black and Raja is Asian.
The family is seeking the release of any surveillance footage of the incident from street cameras. There was no dashboard-camera footage of the incident and Palm Beach Gardens police officers are not equipped with body cameras.
While relatives said they did not hate police, they did speak about a lack of trust. Police are "supposed to be protecting you, but you can't trust them anymore," Fred Banks, Jones’s uncle, told the Associated Press.
Areas that have police equipped with body-cameras report benefits for both the public and for officers. Rialto, a working-town in California that started equipping body-cameras in 2012, saw a significant decrease in both use of force incidents and complaints against officers, as The Christian Science Monitor's Daniel Wood previously reported.
Body-cameras also have the potential to clarify the events of a shooting and renew public trust in officers. In January 2015, a Salem, Ala., officer was cleared of any wrongdoing following a shooting after body-camera footage revealed the suspect charged at the officer with a hatchet.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.