Palm Beach County, FL – A former Palm Beach Gardens police officer was convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder on Thursday for the shooting death of a stranded motorist.
Cory Jones, 31, was on his way his way home from a band gig in Jupiter at about 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2015 when his SUV broke down on Interstate 95 exit ramp at PGA Boulevard, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
A Road Ranger stopped to offer assistance but the two weren’t able to get the vehicle running, so Jones called for a tow truck and sat in his SUV alone to wait.
Then-Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja was working a plainclothes assignment that night and driving an unmarked white van when he spotted the disabled vehicle on the exit ramp at about 3 a.m.
Officer Raja got permission from a supervisor to stop and check out what he thought was an abandoned SUV, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
The officer drove the wrong way up the ramp and pulled his unmarked van up close to Jones’ vehicle.
He got out of the van without his tactical vest, police radio, or department-issued gun, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Officer Raja was wearing nothing that would have identified him as a member of law enforcement, and he was carrying his personally-owned .40-caliber Glock pistol.
Jones armed himself with his licensed .380-caliber handgun, and prosecutors speculated he may have had it out that night because he thought the plainclothes officer was a criminal planning to rob him.
Prosecutor Brian Fernandes wrote that the officer “rushed toward Corey, chasing him from the cover of his own vehicle… the only logical conclusion that a citizen such as Corey could reach… was that he was about to be the unfortunate victim of a violent crime. And that is exactly what happened,” according to the Sun-Sentinel.
In a recorded statement, Officer Raja told investigators that he had no choice but to defend himself against Jones, and that he believed the man was going to kill him that night.
“I said, ‘Hey, man, police, can I help you?’ and that’s when he... jumped back and pointed the gun at me,” the former police officer told detectives in a video that was shown to the jury during the trial.
Officer Raja fired six shots and struck Jones three times, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
“I identified myself as a police officer... and this guy’s tryin’ to kill me and I was, and I, I didn’t wanna die,” he explained to investigators.
But the roadside assistance call that Jones had made for a tow truck earlier was still recording when the shooting occurred, and that told a very different story.
The audio proved that Officer Raja had not, in fact, identified himself as a police officer before he opened fire on Jones, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
On the recording, loud chimes can be heard as Jones opened his car door.
He said “huh?” as the officer approached his vehicle, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
“I’m good. Yeah, I’m good,” Jones said.
“Really?” Officer Raja asked.
“Yeah,” Jones replied on the recording.
That’s when Officer Raja began screaming “Get your f--king hands up! Get your f--king hands up!”
“Hold on! Hold on!” Jones said on the recording.
“Get your f--king hands up! Drop!” the plainclothes officer ordered him.
The first round of gunfire is heard over the next two seconds of the recording, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
Jones’ gun was found 41 yards from his body, and investigators determined it had not been fired.
Raja was fired by the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department within a month of the incident, The New York Times reported.
He was charged in June of 2016, and his defense attorneys attempted to invoke Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in his case to have the charges dismissed.
A Florida judge denied his attorneys’ request and said Raja’s testimony was “unreliable and not credible,” The New York Times reported.
Raja has been on house arrest since he was charged in 2016, and was immediately taken into custody on Thursday after the jury rendered its verdict.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 26, NBC News reported.
The manslaughter charge carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
The attempted murder charge is punishable with up to life in prison.