A Florida police officer who shot and killed a man whose car had broken down last month has been fired, though an investigation that will determine whether charges will be filed isn’t finished, the department that employed him said Thursday.
Palm Beach Gardens police Officer Nouman Raja, who was in plainclothes when he shot 31-year-old Corey Jones along a highway in the early morning of October 18, had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting.
Raja was hired in April, and like all new hires in the department, was on a probationary period in which he could be fired for any reason, the city said in a news release, citing its contract with a police union.
The city’s release did not give a reason for Raja’s firing, other than to say the firing was within the city’s rights, and that the city had been “cautiously and methodically considering (Raja’s) employment status.”
John Kazanjian, president of the union that represents the city’s police officers, said Raja was about halfway through the probationary period when the shooting happened. Still, Kazanjian said he was “very disappointed” with Raja’s firing.
“Without any facts of the case or the final investigation, how do you let him go?” Kazanjian said Thursday. He is president of the Palm Beach Police Benevolent Association.
CNN left a phone message with Raja’s attorney, Richard Lubin, seeking comment. The call wasn’t immediately returned.
Jones’ family, in a statement released Thursday by its attorneys, said it was pleased about Raja’s firing, but it maintains Raja “also must be held criminally liable for his reckless actions that night.”
The death of Jones, who was black, was one of the most recent in a series of controversial police shootings that have sparked nationwide protests and questions on race and policing. His death lit up social media, with people tweeting demands for justice using hashtags #Justice4Corey and #CoreyJones.
Jones, a drummer, had just played a gig and was heading home after midnight when his car broke down. He was waiting for a tow truck after making 15 calls to a roadside assistance group, his family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, has said.
Around 3 a.m., Raja, on duty but wearing civilian clothing and driving an unmarked car, pulled up to check out what he thought was an abandoned car, Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp said last month.
But the car was Jones’, and it wasn’t abandoned. Jones had a gun, and a confrontation ensued, with Raja shooting Jones, Stepp said.
Jones possessed his gun legally, with a concealed carry permit, and didn’t fire, Crump has said. Raja fired six times, hitting Jones three times, according to Crump.
Jones’ relatives say they believe he was wronged, asserting he would never pull a gun on someone he knew was a police officer.
“We believe Corey went to his grave not knowing if this was a real cop or not,” Crump said last month.
Palm Beach Gardens police have not said how or whether Raja identified himself to Jones. There is no dashboard camera footage of the shooting, and Raja was not wearing a body camera, police said.
A source close to the investigation told CNN on condition of anonymity last month that investigators believe the shooting was a result of Jones and Raja misidentifying each other. The source said investigators believe Raja may not have made it sufficiently clear he was an officer and that Jones may not have heard what the officer said.
The source also said Raja felt he had to check the car because there had been burglaries in the area recently and that burglars had parked near the ramp where Jones’ vehicle was.
Raja “was working as part of a detail related to a string of burglaries in the city,” Stepp told reporters two days after the shooting.
Palm Beach Gardens police have not said how or whether Raja identified himself to Jones.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office is investigating the shooting, as is the office of Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg.
In its statement Thursday, Jones’ family said that it “remains hopeful that the outside agencies brought in to investigate Corey’s killing will soon begin to yield factual information about how and why this officer acted so callously.”