A Florida officer will face a grand jury for the shooting death of church musician Corey Jones, State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced Wednesday.
The 31-year-old drummer was shot and killed by Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja last October while awaiting roadside assistance for his car, broken down on the side of the interstate.
Aronberg told reporters that the existing evidence prevented him from charging Raja or dismissing the case altogether.
“If unresolved issues exist and a close out memorandum cannot be issued, then our protocol is to take the matter to a grand jury,” Aronberg said.
In the months since the incident, family and community activists pressed for charges in the case, hoping to elude the grand jury process. Organizers staged protests throughout the area in hopes of a trial.
The family released a statement through attorney Benjamin Crump following the announcement.
“While we are pleased to learn that the officer who senselessly killed our Corey will face a grand jury for his reckless act, we understand that nothing can bring back our son, brother and friend. Our goal now as a family is to ensure that this never happens to another innocent citizen,” the statement said.
“While we are leery of the grand jury process, we will remain vigilant and peacefully demand greater accountability and transparency from law enforcement.”
Community leaders quickly responded to the news, staging their own press conferences. Edward Rodgers, the area’s first Black judge, charged the prosecutor with taking “the easy way out.”
Rodgers said, “He doesn’t have to [go to] the grand jury. He can indict anybody he wants to, or not indict anybody he wants to. When he [uses] a grand jury, he wants to get rid of the case but he wants them to do it.”
Aronberg, who faces re-election this year, told media attendees “justice” was the only motivation for the decision, saying his office was as “transparent” as rules would allow.
“I’d ask people not to jump to conclusions until it’s done,” he said.
Although Aronberg said his office had sent two other police shooting cases to grand juries in the last 3 1/2 years, the Palm Beach Post reports that fatal police shootings are rarely referred to a grand jury in the area. Three other officer-involved shootings were taken to grand juries in 2003, 2005 and 2007, but not one resulted in an indictment. In fact, no county officers have been charged in a shooting and killing death since 1993, according to the Post.
Grand juries have become a “kiss of death” for the families of police shooting victims. Officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and were all cleared of charges in the last two years.
Raja was dressed in plainclothes, driving an unmarked van when he pulled up to Corey Jones in the early hours of Oct. 18, 2015. He told investigators he said, “I’m a cop. Are you OK, man?”
Raja claimed that Jones’ charged him with a gun and he was forced to fire in self-defense.
An investigation showed that Raja fired his weapon six times, with three bullets hittin Jones. Jones’ gun, for which he had a concealed carry permit, was found near his body, unfired.