Details Are Murky in the Shooting Death of Black Man in Florida

Police Blue

police-blueCorey Jones was last seen around 1:45 am this past Sunday. He called a bandmate following the conclusion of a gig an hour earlier, to say that his SUV was broken down and he was in need of help. He was stranded on I-95 north of West Palm Beach, Florida. His friend arrived and realized Mr. Jones’ vehicle was beyond his ability to repair it.

So Mathew Huntsberger called for roadside assistance for Corey Jones, 31, and left him to head home as Mr. Jones waited for the tow truck. Forty-five minutes later, Corey Jones was dead, becoming another young black male shot and killed by police. What happened exactly remains a mystery.

Police, in statement released on Monday night, claim that Corey Jones had a handgun at the scene that he bought three days earlier. At 3:15 am, a Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer, Nouman Raja, was on duty in plainclothes capacity in an unmarked police vehicle.

He stopped to investigate what he thought was an abandoned vehicle on the southbound exit ramp of I-95 and PGA Blvd. As the officer exited his vehicle, “he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject.” During the confrontation, “the officer discharged his firearm resulting in the death of the subject, Corey Jones.”

Officer Raja is on paid administrative leave and an independent investigation is underway, being conducted by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

By Tuesday night, the New York Times reports, Police Chief Stephen Stepp said Officer Raja had been on the job for six months, and that Mr. Jones’ handgun was recovered on the ground outside his car. The new box it came in was inside the vehicle.

The Times writes, “In a brief news conference Tuesday night, Chief Stepp addressed the swelling questions about how a respected church drummer and housing inspector wound up dead in the middle of the night off Interstate 95, a half-hour from his home. The case, another focused on the shooting of a black man by a police officer, had begun to gain attention on social media, and the department was sharply criticized by a county police union official for not coming forward with facts sooner.”

“No matter what the circumstances turn out to be, his is a tragic loss of life that affects us all,” Chief Stepp said.

The Times reports that the Chief did not say “whether Officer Raja identified himself as a police officer.” It added, “It is not clear whether the two men exchanged words or if Mr. Jones pointed his weapon.”

Calling the encounter a “confrontation,” the chief said the officer “discharged his firearm, resulting in the death of Mr. Corey Jones.”

“He did not say what prompted the officer to fire. He did not clarify whether Mr. Jones had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The chief said the officer’s unmarked vehicle was not equipped with a dashboard camera, and the department does not use body cameras,” the New York Times reported.

“We are allowing the investigation to determine the facts of this case, rather than speculating or giving out unverified information,” he said.

The Times reports that the family has hired Benjamin Crump and Daryl Park, civil rights attorneys who previously worked on the Trayvon Martin case as well as the Tamir Rice case.

Family and friends are skeptical of the account. Mr. Huntsberger described Corey Jones as a mellow, church-going musician. Other friends have described Jones as a well-known and well-liked church drummer at Bible Church of God in Boynton Beach.

Mr. Huntsberger told the Washington Post, “They’re saying he was armed, but I don’t know if I believe it… Of course they’re going to say that. If I was there, maybe it’s a different situation. I just don’t know what happened.”

“He was a good kid, just coming home from a gig,” Mr. Jones’ cousin Frank Hearst, 36, of Nashville, Tenn. told the Washington Post. “He was just an all-around good guy who never got into any trouble, never had any record. It’s just an unfortunate situation.”

The family released a statement Tuesday describing Corey Jones as a “God-fearing man who dedicated his life to doing the right thing.”

“He lived every moment to the fullest and was an inspiration to many; the kind of son, brother and friend people could only hope for,” the family said. “Rest assured, we are working diligently with our legal team to determine exactly why this plainclothes police officer in an unmarked car would approach Corey.”

Earlier Tuesday, the local police union sent out a tweet accusing the department of a lack of transparency. John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Assn., told the Los Angeles Times that “the department’s hesitation to release information would only stoke public suspicion that the officer used excessive force.”

“We’re very concerned that the police department is continuing to be silent,” Mr. Kazanjian said. “The inferences out there are that they’re covering up, or that the officer did something wrong. We need to come out and quell those.”

Mr. Kazanjian told the paper he wants to avoid a situation like the one in Ferguson, which experienced unrest after Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man, was fatally shot by a police officer last year.

“They took so long out there to address the public on what transpired,” Mr. Kazanjian said. “All the playbooks say don’t do that, and I don’t know why the chief here in Palm Beach Gardens has taken two or three days to respond.”

“For this to happen to a good person — he is not a thug. He is not what everybody would imagine a black man to be in this judgmental system that we have,” Erica Gordon, a member of the Boynton United Community Choir, said at the vigil, according to a video interview with The Palm Beach Post. “He is a good person, and this should have never happened to him.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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29 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    There’s nothing here to report other than a black man who had a gun was shot on a Florida freeway during a confrontation with a cop.  So far there’s no proof of any wrongdoing.  Why is this a story on a small town blog 3000 miles away from the incident?  It might eventually turn into something if the facts bear it out but until then it’s

    Ground hog day on the Vanguard…….

        1. David Greenwald

          It seemed interesting with the intrigue of the church going drummer suddenly getting a gun for the first time three days before his car happened to break down on the interstate and a plain clothed officer happened to confront him.

        2. Barack Palin

          It seemed interesting with the intrigue of the ‘Black’ church going drummer suddenly getting a gun for the first time three days before his car happened to break down on the interstate and a plain clothed officer happened to confront him.

           

  2. Alan Miller

    Five headlines you will never see in the Vanguard:

    • Details Are Murky in the Shooting Death of White Man in South Carolina
    • Details Are Murky in the Shooting Death of Jewish Man in Kansas
    • Details Are Murky in the Shooting Death of Japanese Woman in Alabama
    • Details Are Murky in the Shooting Death of Human Being in Nevada
    • Details Are Murky in the Shooting Death of Duck in the Arboretum

    Question of the day:

    WHY?

     

    1. Eric Gelber

      Five headlines you will never see in the Vanguard …

      This feeble attempt to make light of the situation implies that the disproportionate number of instances in which blacks are victims of police shootings is not a valid or newsworthy issue. Unfortunately, it is.

      1. Alan Miller

        Not at all, I agree it is an issue.  My point is when it is assumed to be the issue up front, and even remains the issue after the preponderance of the evidence shows it was not in individual cases, then this “assume first, ask questions later” strategy may gleam you in the eyes of your fellow extremists, but turns off a huge number of reasonable people who would otherwise listen.

      2. Barack Palin

        This feeble attempt to make light of the situation implies that the disproportionate number of instances in which blacks are victims of police shootings is not a valid or newsworthy issue.

        The feeble attempts are the instances where individuals try and make a case out of every incident even when the facts don’t back it up.

        1. Eric Gelber

          The known facts here are that a respected member of the community, who is black, was shot and killed by a plainclothes police officer while waiting for roadside assistance. No one is drawing conclusions, but the known circumstances certainly are sufficient to raise concerns and warrant scrutiny, particularly given the disturbing statistics on police violence toward blacks and other minorities. This is certainly more newsworthy than the “shooting death of a duck in the Arboretum” and to suggest otherwise is offensive.

          1. David Greenwald

            I think this is pretty straight forward. You even have the union president criticizing the chief for slow-playing the release of information, a lack of video either on the dash cam and the police officer.

            Someone made the comment potentially comparing this to Gutierrez shooting in Yolo in 2009, in that you have a plain clothes officer who may not have identified himself as a police officer.

            This may well be “clean” but it certainly seems interesting enough to put in the Vanguard given the broader context and conversation.

        2. Alan Miller

          This is certainly more newsworthy than the “shooting death of a duck in the Arboretum” and to suggest otherwise is offensive.

          Not if you’re a duck.

        1. Eric Gelber

          “Saw that report (but not in the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post).”

          What is the point of bringing up this unrelated incident? To suggest that black men who are roughed up by cops deserve it? Perhaps you would have seen this incident reported in the NY Times, LA Times, or Washington Post if you actually ever read any of those news sources:

          http://www.pressreader.com/usa/los-angeles-times/20151020/281646778987189/TextView

          http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/10/19/us/ap-us-woman-punched-facebook-video.html

          https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/police-man-who-knocked-out-woman-in-facebook-video-charged/2015/10/19/41848e2c-76a4-11e5-a5e2-40d6b2ad18dd_story.html

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          Probably b/c a certain crowd prefers to focus on a subset, of a subset, of a subset, which serves their political agenda.

          The Black Lives Matter crowd continues to lose legitimacy after it accosts the Mayor of Los Angeles when he voluntarily met with them. Even a black pastor thinks they are losing credibility with their aggressive actions.

          Meanwhile, an artist painting a community mural is killed in broad daylight in Oakland, and many cities continue an upward trend in violent crime which parallels the BLM movement. Sacramento violent crime is up 19%.

          1. David Greenwald

            Not surprising considering the hard core activists are hard core activists. That doesn’t mean the underlying point isn’t an important one.

  3. Frankly

    Reading the reporting on this, I think it was just a terrible accident.

    If there is anyone to blame, it is those real criminals in the area putting everyone on edge from fear of being a victim of crime.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    While we will have little effect in Florida, we just had another strong-armed robbery in Davis on Cowell.

    “According to Lt. Ton Phan, the three victims were sitting in a vehicle in the parking lot of the Tanglewood Apartments, 1880 Cowell Blvd., when they were approached by two suspects who demanded cash. One of the victims was punched in the face during the incident but declined medical aid.”

    “Both suspects were described as Hispanic males between 18 and 21 years old, Phan said. One had curly brown hair and an unshaven face, wore a gray hooded sweatshirt and carried a metal pipe. The other wore a black hooded sweatshirt and had a black bandanna covering his face.”

    http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/crime-fire-courts/davis-police-seek-robbery-suspects/

    Hooded sweatshirts, bandannas, metal pipe.

  5. Napoleon Pig IV

    To me, it doesn’t matter what the color of his skin was. This is another case of out of control cops killing civilians. Sure, the majority of police officers are dedicated public servants, but they (like decent Muslims) have a strong tendency to remain silent on the issue of bad apples in the barrel.

    ““We are allowing the investigation to determine the facts of this case, . . .”

    Yeah, right. Oink!

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