Corey Jones was sitting in his broken-down car on the side of the highway in the middle of the night while he waited for a tow. Suddenly, Nouman Raja came barreling the wrong way up the off-ramp. Raja, an undercover cop in an unmarked white van, strode up to Jones' window and demanded he put his "fuckin'" hands up.
Without identifying himself as a police officer, Raja pulled a gun on the stranded driver, a 31-year-old drummer with a close-knit family, a gig at church in the morning, and dreams of becoming a professional musician. Then, as a frightened Jones ran for his life, the officer shot him six times. Jones died on the side of the road, unarmed and most likely unaware that his assailant was a cop.
None of that ever would have been publicly known, except that Jones was on the phone when Raja showed up. Unaware that the confrontation had been recorded, the police officer swore that he'd presented himself as law enforcement, that Jones had pulled a gun on him, that he'd been the victim. And then, even after the audio was released and showed Raja was lying, he tried to claim immunity under Florida's Stand Your Ground law.
Today a state appeals court rejected the ex-Palm Beach Gardens Police officer's claim, agreeing with Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer, who in June said Stand Your Ground didn't apply. The manslaughter and attempted murder case against Raja will go on, a victory for Jones' family.
"Stand Your Ground was originally intended for normal citizens who were in fear for their life," Jones' cousin and former Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin said during a news conference earlier this year. "And in this case, if anybody was in fear for their life, it was Corey."
The Fourth District Court of Appeal made its ruling without explanation.
Raja's lawyers have continued to push the story the cop told hours after the shooting: that he fired in self-defense after Jones jumped out of his car and immediately pulled a gun on him. Jones had a gun he was legally licensed to carry in the car with him. But he dropped it as he ran away, and the timing on the audio indicates that Raja fired the fatal shots after the fact. Prosecutors concluded Raja knew Jones no longer had a weapon when the cop began shooting.
To support the claim that the officer had identified himself, Raja's defense team hired a forensic audio-video analyst who testified that he enhanced the recording and discovered someone speaking before the first audible word, Jones' "Huh?"
Judge Schosberg Feuer rejected that argument, writing in her June 1 ruling that the point was moot anyway because the "Huh?" indicates Jones didn't understand what, if anything, Raja said to him. There is no evidence the officer identified himself in any way, she wrote.
She called Raja's sworn statement from the night of the shooting "unreliable and not credible" and inconsistent with the physical evidence.
"The Defendant's actions created a situation where a reasonable person in Jones's position would think he were about to be harmed by a person wielding a firearm," Schosberg Feuer wrote. "If Jones reacted to an aggressive approach by a stranger brandishing a firearm, not known to be a police officer, by brandishing his own firearm, he was justified in doing so."
With the appeals court agreeing with Schosberg Feuer, Raja's only recourse is to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Unless that court decides in his favor, the manslaughter and attempted murder charges will continue toward trial. It would be the first time in 25 years that a cop in Florida has faced trial for killing someone in the line of duty.
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