Lawyers for a former Palm Beach Gardens police officer claiming the "stand your ground" defense in the 2015 fatal shooting of Corey Jones argued their case in court Monday.
Nouman Raja's lawyers claim he is entitled to statutory immunity from manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder charges because he was a law enforcement officer when he fatally shot Corey Jones in 2015.
“There’s not some heightened standard provided to law enforcement,” said Asst. State Attorney Brian Fernandes said during opening statements.
Under the defense, Raja’s attorneys Richard Lubin and Scott Richardson are asking the judge to dismiss the charges, claiming that the shooting was justified.
“He was in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm,” Richardson said in court.
The state claims the only person who had the right to stand their ground that night was Corey Jones, who grabbed his gun for protection, arguing Raja was the aggressor because he never identified himself as an officer.
Fernandes said Raja aggressively approached Jones in October 2015 on the Interstate 95 off-ramp at PGA Boulevard when Jones' car broke down. “He did nothing but recklessly run into a situation and cause an individual to get killed.”
The hearing is expected to last two days.
The defense played a recording of the call Jones placed to AT&T Roadside Assistance:
Corey Jones: "huh?"
Raja: "you good?"
Jones "I'm good"
Jones: yeah I'm good"
Raja: "get your (expletive) hands up! Get your (expletive) hands up.
Jones: "hold on!"
Raja: "get your (expletive) hands up! "Drop!"
Raja is never heard identifying himself as an officer on the call. The defense asked an expert to analyze whether it was possible that words were spoken but were not picked up on the AT&T call.
The expert said a voice that was not Jones could be heard on the call before Jones said “huh?” But, the expert could not say whose voice it is.
The expert used audio-enhancement applications to analyze the call.
Next, the 911 call Raja made was played in court. In the call, Raja said his radio was in his unmarked van. State prosecutors say this goes against policy for officers.
Officer: Drop that ******* gun right now.
Officer: Got one down, I just shot one person. I’m at that off-ramp right behind Double Tree. Black male.
Jones was a drummer for the reggae band, Future Prezidents. The band finished a show in Jupiter at around 1:15 a.m. While Jones was driving home, he experienced car trouble and pulled over on the exit ramp.
A band member and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper attempted to help Jones get his SUV started, but left around 2:45 a.m. after they were unable to. Jones told them he wanted to stay behind because he was afraid his drums would get stolen, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Raja drove the wrong way up the exit ramp and parked just feet in front of Jones’ vehicle, Fernandes said.
Six bullet casings recovered from the crime scene were all from Raja’s personally-owned firearm, court records show. Jones legally purchased a gun three days earlier and had it with him, but it was never fired.
LaForte and Michael Knox, both of Knox & Associates Forensic Consulting, analyzed the evidence from the crime scene on behalf of Lubin’s law firm. Jones’ handgun was found near a signpost, Knox said.
Legislatures changed Florida’s “stand your ground” law last year, switching the burden of proof from the defense to the prosecution. Now, the state must prove that Raja did not stand his ground, as opposed to Raja’s lawyers proving he did.
The Florida Supreme Court announced earlier this year they will hear a case that could decide if law enforcement officers are eligible to use the defense. Two years ago, a Broward County judge dismissed a manslaughter charge for Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Peraza for killing Jermaine McBean in 2013.
The dismissal was upheld by the Fourth District Court of Appeal and now will be presented before the Supreme Court. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked the court to overturn the ruling, saying in a court document that Peraza was not entitled to immunity.