By Daphne Duret and Lawrence Mower
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Corey Jones was on the phone with AT&T’s roadside assistance — and possibly recorded — when a Palm Beach Gardens officer confronted him on an Interstate 95 off-ramp last week, triggering the events that led to his death.
A copy of Jones’ phone records obtained by The Palm Beach Post show that at 3:10 a.m., Jones called #HELP, the phone company’s recorded line to request assistance.
Jones, 31, was shot and killed by officer Nouman Raja about five minutes later, according to police, but the phone records show the call lasted 53 minutes.
Since AT&T alerts callers that the line might be recorded, it could have captured audio of the moments before, during and after his death, making it a critical piece of evidence in a shooting in which no video recordings apparently exist.
It’s unclear, however, whether the line was recorded, or whether investigators have obtained any recordings. Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mike Edmondson on Monday declined to comment on whether the prosecutors’ office had obtained the phone records. Jones’ phone was, however, recovered at the scene and had not been returned to family members as of Monday.
An AT&T official said late Monday she could not comment.
Clarence Ellington, Jones’ best friend, said Jones’ family has seen the records and were meeting late Monday with the family’s legal team.
“The consensus is the same, and that’s that we’re angry,” Ellington said.
Jones used a cellphone belonging to his employer, the Delray Beach Housing Authority. Call logs for the government agency were provided to The Post under the state’s open records law.
The call to roadside assistance was one of many Jones made early that morning, after the drummer’s sport utility vehicle broke down while driving back from a gig in Jupiter.
The first indication of car trouble came at 1:35 a.m., when he called band mate Mathew Huntsberger for help.
Nine minutes later, he called *FHP, the Florida Highway Patrol’s main line. The records indicate that the call lasted four minutes, but an FHP spokesman wasn’t able to obtain the content of the call late Monday.
Starting at 2:09 a.m., Jones called the AT&T #HELP four times, spending about 36 minutes trying to get help.
Those calls were probably fruitless, however, since he called #HELP again, at 2:45 a.m., a call that the log says lasted 32 minutes, even though he dialed three other numbers after that call began.
The final call went to the help line at 3:10 a.m. and records show it wouldn’t have ended until 4:03 a.m., long after the 3:15 a.m. shooting.
It was the last call Jones would make.
Four agencies, including the FBI, are investigating what happened next.
Jones, a Delray Beach housing inspector with no history of violence, was sitting in his car on the off-ramp at PGA Boulevard when Raja pulled up and parked perpendicular to him, blocking multiple lanes of traffic.
Raja, who was on a burglary surveillance detail, had stopped for an abandoned vehicle, Palm Beach Gardens police said. He wasn’t in uniform and didn’t have his badge when he stepped out of an unmarked white Ford van, according to Jones’ family lawyers, who were briefed by State Attorney Dave Aronberg.
Police said Raja spotted Jones’ gun and fired, killing him. Lawyers said Raja fired six times, including while Jones was running away. Jones’ body was found 80 to 100 feet away from his vehicle.
His gun, which he had bought legally and for which he had a concealed carry permit, was found an unspecified distance between his body and his vehicle.
The incident has captured national attention, the latest example of a young black man killed by police under questionable circumstances. Experts and the public have questioned Raja’s decision to confront Jones, who might not have known Raja was an officer.
The phone records provide some insight — and confusion — into Jones’ final hours.
He left his Jupiter gig and had just gotten on the highway when at 1:21 a.m. he called Manoucheka Sinmelus. She told The Post that Jones was on his way to pick her up from her home in Delray Beach. He didn’t mention car trouble. The call lasted about seven minutes. She has not spoken to authorities because they haven’t contacted her, she said.
The phone records have some discrepancies that aren’t easily explained, however.
Two phone calls seem to overlap with other calls. At 2:29 a.m., the logs show he spent 16 minutes with #HELP, but he called another phone number just eight minutes later.
Then, at 2:45 a.m., the logs show he spent 32 minutes on the line with #HELP, yet he called his brother just seven minutes later.
Edward J. Imwinkelried, an expert in scientific evidence and law professor at The University of California-Davis, said investigators should focus on the overlapping calls.
“If I was the investigator on the case, I would want to see how that is possible,” Imwinkelried said.
The most plausible explanation would be that Jones made the other calls while he was on hold with roadside assistance, Imwinkelried said. The first thing investigators would need to do, he said, is speak with everyone on Jones’ call log, including his brother, and obtain their phone records as well.
Then, he said, investigators would need to go to AT&T and have them explain the call log, and ask them if any recording of Jones’ calls exist.