A musician killed by a police officer in Florida over the weekend had recently bought a handgun that was found where he died, Palm Beach Gardens police officials said late Tuesday, but they did not say whether he was pointing the weapon or what led to the confrontation.
The fatal shooting of Corey Jones sparked an outcry, and his relatives have retained Benjamin Crump, a high-profile civil rights attorney, to represent them.
Jones, a 31-year-old musician from Boynton Beach, Fla., had just wrapped up a gig with his band around 3 a.m. Sunday when his car broke down, according to bandmate Boris Simeonov.
Officer Nouman Raja, 38, was on duty in plainclothes and riding in an unmarked car about 3:15 a.m. when he saw Jones’ vehicle just off Interstate 95 near PGA Boulevard and stopped to investigate, according to a news release from the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department.
“As the officer exited his vehicle, he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject,” Officer Ellen Lovejoy wrote in the release Monday. “As a result of the confrontation, the officer discharged his firearm,” resulting in Jones’ death.
On Tuesday, Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen J. Stepp told reporters that Jones had bought a handgun three days before the fatal clash. Detectives with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating the shooting, recovered a handgun outside Jones’ car and its box inside the car, according to Stepp.
Police uncovered paperwork showing Jones had purchased the firearm, Stepp said.
Police have not said what exactly sparked the fatal confrontation. Palm Beach Gardens police officers are not equipped with body cameras, and Raja’s cruiser was not outfitted with a dashboard camera, according to Stepp.
The department declined to release any investigative documents, radio transmissions or 911 recordings, citing the ongoing sheriff’s investigation. Raja has been an officer in Palm Beach Gardens since April and has not been the subject of any complaints, discipline or internal affairs investigations, Stepp said. Raja previously served as a police officer in nearby Atlantis.
The whole incident has left Jones’ family demanding answers.
“He was sitting on the side of the road and got shot,” said Jones’ uncle, Sylvester Banks Jr. “We didn’t find out about it until about 12 hours later.”
A spokesman for their attorney, Crump, confirmed Tuesday that the Jones family has retained him as their lawyer. Crump has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death in 2012 by George Zimmerman, and Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy who was killed by police while holding a replica gun.
Raja has been placed on paid administrative leave per department policy, police said.
A news release giving sparse details about the incident, originally posted on the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department’s Facebook page, has been taken down and the department’s page has been deactivated.
Officials at the Police Department, mayor’s office and Palm Beach Gardens city clerk’s office have not responded to requests Tuesday morning by the Los Angeles Times for additional information, including whether a weapon was recovered at the scene.
John Kazanjian, president of a Palm Beach County police union, said the department is not being transparent enough with the public in their investigation.
“We’re very concerned that the Police Department is continuing to be silent,” Kazanjian told The Times. “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.”
Kazanjian said he wants to avoid a situation like that in Ferguson, Mo., which experienced unrest after Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a police officer.
“They took so long out there to address the public on what transpired,” 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.”
During a frantic question-and-answer session that followed Stepp’s news conference Tuesday, reporters invoked last year’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. But the police chief said he hoped the release of some additional information would calm tensions in the community.
“It’s an independent investigation and there’s only so much that we have knowledge of and that we can release,” he said. “I understand the public’s concern. We share that. The most important thing, I believe, is to get the facts out.”
Sometime before Jones was shot, he had called a family member about the vehicle trouble and decided to call a tow truck, Banks said.
Banks said Jones played the drums in church and with several local bands.
“Everyone loved him,” Banks said. “He was raised in church all his life.”
Jones’ family released a statement Tuesday thanking supporters and saying Jones “was a God-fearing man who dedicated his life to doing the right thing.”
“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,” the family said in the statement, released through Crump’s office.
Jones’ family is well-known in Boynton Beach, about 15 miles south of Palm Beach, Fla. where his grandfather, Sylver Banks, is a bishop at a local church.
Jones’ brother Clinton “C.J.” Jones was an NFL player with the Cleveland Browns in 2003 and New England Patriots in 2008.
Jones’ aunt, Sheila Banks, of Atlanta, said her nephew worked for the city of Delray Beach housing authority. Jones’ mother died of breast cancer seven years ago and his grandmother died last week, family members say.
His nieces and nephews are devastated and can’t sleep, she said.
“There’s a family reunion this Saturday and we were planning on [meeting for] lunch,” Sheila Banks said. “I’m just in disbelief.”
Like others in her family, Banks is waiting for authorities to release more information about how and why Jones was killed.
“We haven’t gotten any answers yet,” she said. “All we know is someone shot him.”
On Monday evening, church and family members held a prayer vigil for Jones.
Family members described him as a happy soul who had been playing the drums for almost all of his life. Through tears, some expressed the sadness and shock of what happened.
Cassandra Gibbs, Jones’ cousin, said she knows her cousin wouldn’t do anything to provoke being shot at.
“It feels like a sharp pain, like a knife,” she said.
During the vigil, everyone took hands, swayed back and forth and sang songs asking God to heal their wounded hearts. Church apostle Tommy Brown led the group in prayer, his eyes closed, his voice loud and powerful.
“We ask you Lord God to help. We ask you not only to help, but to heal,” he said. “And we ask you not only to heal, but to vindicate.”
Los Angeles Times staff writers Christine Mai-Duc and James Queally and Sun-Sentinel staff writer Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.