By Carlos Harrison and Wesley Lowery, The Washington Post
Stranded on a highway off-ramp at 3 a.m., waiting for a tow truck, Corey Jones was armed with a brand-new pistol and a state-issued concealed-carry permit that entitled him to take the gun wherever he pleased.
Enter Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja, wearing civilian clothes and driving an unmarked van. He pulled up to Jones’s vehicle, thinking it was abandoned.
Minutes later, Jones, 31, was dead.
Police say Raja opened fire after Jones confronted him with a gun. But under Florida’s expansive gun laws, Jones may have been entirely within his rights to brandish his weapon, legal experts say — especially if reports that Raja never displayed his badge are true.
The shooting has raised troubling questions about the rules of engagement when a legally armed motorist faces a police officer out of uniform late at night on a lonely road. And those rules could get even trickier, experts say, if Florida lawmakers approve a pending measure to permit people with concealed-carry permits to openly display their weapons.
“The police are nervous as it is,” said Roy Black, a prominent Florida attorney who has represented more than 100 police officers in use-of-force cases.
“The horror” of the Jones shooting, Black said, is that “both men could have been acting perfectly legally and it still ended up in tragedy.”
State officials are investigating the Oct. 18 shooting, as is the Palm Beach County sheriff. Few details have been released, and Jones’s family is demanding answers. They have hired a stable of attorneys, including Benjamin Crump, the Florida lawyer who represents the family of slain Ferguson, Mo., teen Michael Brown and slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
Last week, Jones’s family held a news conference on the steps of the Palm Beach County Courthouse. “I raised my children to be respectable and to respect the law. I always tell them to stay humble,” his father, Clinton Jones Sr., tearfully told reporters. “Today, I need some answers. I need to know why. Why my son is gone today.”
Though Corey Jones was black and the officer who shot him was not, his brother, Clinton Jones Jr., urged reporters not to view the shooting as “a black thing.”
“My brother did not see color. I don’t see color,” he said, noting that his wife is white. “So, no disrespect to Black Lives Matter: All lives matter.”
Jones, who had no criminal record, came from a large family in the Palm Beach area. Several of his relatives are members of the clergy. Corey worked as an assistant manager at the Delray Beach Housing Authority, relatives said, but his passion was drumming. He played at his church in Boynton Beach and with a local reggae band known as the Future Prezidents.
Playing with the band, Crump said, meant Jones often drove around with cash and “thousands of dollars worth of equipment.” More than two years ago, he began carrying a gun for protection.
Crump said that Jones had obtained a concealed-weapons permit and that he bought a new pistol.
Jones was headed home from a gig, driving south on Interstate 95, when his car broke down in Palm Beach Gardens.
About 1:45 a.m., Jones pulled off the highway and called the band’s bassist, Mathew Huntsberger, asking him to bring oil. When that didn’t help, the two men pushed the SUV to the side of the road, and Jones called for a tow truck. Huntsberger drove home, knowing the tow truck was on its way.
About 3:15 a.m., police said, Raja stopped his unmarked van near Jones’s SUV “to investigate what he believed to be an abandoned vehicle.” Raja then was “suddenly confronted by an armed subject” and opened fire, police said.
Police found Jones’s gun lying on the ground, unfired.
Crump said the family was also told that Raja never showed his badge.
“We believe Corey went to his grave not knowing if this was a real cop,” Crump said. “Why didn’t he identify himself? Why didn’t he show the badge? He rode up on him in an unmarked white van with tinted windows. He doesn’t know if he’s about to be mugged, if he’s about to be robbed, if he’s about to be killed.”
The FBI has joined the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office investigation into the shooting death of Jones.
At a rally held by Rivera Beach Mayor and Bishop Thomas Masters on Monday, the mayor announced that he, several elected officials and members of the African American community are also calling for a special prosecutor to investigate Jones’s death.