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Palm Beach County Police Union Defends Ex-officer In Black Musician’s Death

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg speaks during a news conference as chief assistants Brian Fernandes and Adrienne Ellis listen in West Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Fired officer Nouman Raja was arrested and charged with attempted murder and manslaughter in the Oct. 18, 2015, death of Corey Jones, 31, after a grand jury found the shooting was unjustified, Aronberg said at the news conference. (Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post via AP)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The police union defended a former officer charged in the fatal shooting of a legally armed black man, saying they believe the officer identified himself before the confrontation.

Former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja has been charged with manslaughter and attempted murder in the Oct. 18 death of Corey Jones. Raja’s bail was set at $250,000 during his first court appearance Thursday.

Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said the union believes Raja, who was fired after the shooting, identified himself before confronting Jones on an Interstate 95 ramp before dawn.

Charging documents said Raja, who was investigating a string of auto burglaries, did not identify himself before opening fire. He was driving an unmarked cargo van with no police lights and was in civilian clothes: a tan T-shirt, jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap, the documents said.

 

FILE- In this Oct. 20, 2015, file photo, friends and family of Corey Jones attend a news conference led by Bishop Sylvester Banks, Sr., grandfather of Jones, outside Bible Church of God in Boynton Beach, Fla. A T-shirt honoring Jones was worn by some in attendance. Nouman Raja, a fired Florida police officer, was charged Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in the fatal shooting of Jones, a legally armed black musician who had apparently thrown his weapon and was running away when the lethal shot was fired, prosecutors and court documents said. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post via AP, File) MAGS OUT; TV OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
In this Oct. 20, 2015, file photo, friends and family of Corey Jones attend a news conference led by Bishop Sylvester Banks, Sr., grandfather of Jones, outside Bible Church of God in Boynton Beach, Fla. A T-shirt honoring Jones was worn by some in attendance. Nouman Raja, a fired Florida police officer, was charged Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in the fatal shooting of Jones. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post via AP, File)

Raja’s sergeant told investigators he had instructed Raja to wear his tactical vest that has police markings while on this assignment for his own safety and to identify himself, but it was found in Raja’s van along with his police radio, the documents say. Raja, 38, had been a police officer for seven years, but only about six months with Palm Beach Gardens, a well-to-do suburb.

Charging documents say that, on the recording, as Jones and the operator talked, the door chimes from Jones’ SUV sounded, indicating he stepped out as Raja approached. It recorded an exchange where Raja repeatedly asks variations of “You good?” to which Jones repeatedly replies that he is. Raja never says he is a police officer.

Suddenly, the officer shouts, using an expletive, for Jones to put his hands up.

Jones replies: “Hold on!” And Raja repeats his demand.

Raja then fired three shots in less than two seconds, according to the charging documents. Ten seconds of silence then pass before three more shots, each fired about a second apart, are heard.

Immediately after the shooting, Raja used his personal cellphone to call 911. As the operator answered 33 seconds after the last shot was fired, according to charging documents, Raja yelled at someone to drop the gun even though Jones’ autopsy showed a bullet had pierced his heart and lungs and would have felled him almost immediately.

Raja told the 911 dispatcher that he had identified himself as a police officer and that he began firing as Jones came at him with a gun, prosecutors say. He said he continued firing because Jones was pointing his gun at him as he ran away.

When Raja’s sergeant and other officers arrived, they found Jones’ body between some trees almost 200 feet from the back of his SUV. A police dog found Jones’ gun about 75 feet from his SUV, near where Raja told his sergeant he had seen Jones throw it. The safety was on and it had fired no shots.

Prosecutors say in their charging document that given the distance between the gun and Jones’ body — and the heart wound that would have incapacitated him — they believe Raja fired the last three shots after he knew Jones had thrown down his gun and was running away.

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