Investigators looking into the death of Corey Jones are focusing on officer Nouman Raja’s decision to shoot the 31-year-old drummer while he was running away, The Palm Beach Post has learned.
Evidence indicates Jones may have dropped his weapon when the Palm Beach Gardens officer fired the fatal shot, according to interviews with Jones’ family, their lawyers and a source with knowledge of last week’s incident, which has captured national attention.
At its heart: Why was Jones’ gun found so far away from his body?
When Raja pulled up to the scene at about 3:15 a.m. Oct. 18, in plainclothes and an unmarked white van, Jones was on the phone with AT&T roadside assistance, his cellphone call log indicates. But Jones got out of the vehicle with his legally purchased gun, police and lawyer statements show.
That prompted Raja to fire multiple shots at Jones, police said. It’s unclear whether any of the rounds from the first volley of shots hit him, but it caused Jones to run away.
That’s when Raja fired a second set of shots.
In all, Raja fired six shots, three of which hit. When and where Jones was struck is crucial.
One of the bullets shattered his left arm. Jones was left-handed, so he likely would have been carrying the gun in that hand. That bullet could have forced him to drop it immediately.
Another bullet struck Jones’ right arm, near the shoulder. That wound wouldn’t have been fatal.
A third bullet struck Jones in his right torso, tearing his aorta, which carries blood from the heart. That bullet would have killed him — and, with his aorta shattered, likely forced him to drop immediately to the ground.
If he were still armed when the fatal shot struck, the gun would have been near his body. But it wasn’t. It was about halfway between Jones and his car, family lawyer Skinner Louis said — about 40 to 50 feet from his body. Louis was briefed on the investigation by the State Attorney’s Office.
Another critical question is where Raja was standing when he fired both volleys.
During his walk-through statement to investigators, he couldn’t clearly say where he was when he fired, according to Louis and one other source.
“Where Raja was placed is very important,” Louis said Tuesday, since it could indicate the angle at which he fired, revealing whether Jones had turned toward the officer.
Raja told investigators at the scene that he fired the second set of shots because he saw a “flickering sliver of a laser,” an unidentified source told WPBF-Channel 25 last week. So even if Jones had dropped his weapon as he fled, the officer may have believed Jones was still armed and continued to fear for his life, causing him to unleash the second volley of shots.
Jones’ death has triggered an extraordinary investigative effort for an officer-involved shooting in Palm Beach County, involving four agencies, including the FBI.
The State Attorney’s Office, for example, usually relies heavily on the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office investigation in shootings. But it has investigators going to extraordinary lengths to find witnesses, reaching out to everyone who stayed at a wing of the Doubletree Hotel near the shooting scene that night, The Post has learned.
The State Attorney’s Office and PBSO have refused to comment on details of the investigation.
On Tuesday, Raja met with police union lawyers while PBSO investigators removed evidence from his personal vehicle, according to WPTV NewsChannel 5.
The family’s focus on Tuesday, Louis said, was to get answers from AT&T, which Jones called six times to summon a tow truck to the Interstate 95 off-ramp at PGA Boulevard. The phone records show Jones made his final phone call at 3:10 a.m., five minutes before he was shot and killed. That call, which records show lasted 53 minutes, might have been recorded.
Louis was a high school friend of Jones’ and is now part of the family’s legal team, which includes Tallahassee-based civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.
AT&T officials on Monday confirmed to The Post that they are cooperating with law enforcement but declined to comment further.
Family attorneys also expected Tuesday to speak with Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. They initially met with him last week, and prosecutors provided them details of the shooting. Based on that conversation, they believe Raja wasn’t using his department-issued weapon when he shot Jones.
A Rally for Transparency is scheduled outside the State Attorney’s Office at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Louis said the phone logs belie Raja’s account, and that Jones was laid-back, and calm even as he tried over and over again to reach a tow truck operator. He refused an offer of help from his brother, C.J., in a call that started at 2:52 a.m.
“He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t agitated. He just thought maybe he was calling the wrong number,” Louis said of Jones’ long wait to speak to someone from roadside assistance.
The family has many questions about the case, Louis said, but “Some questions may never be answered.”