Florida Justices Reject Appeal of Cop Convicted of Gunning Down Black Man Off Interstate

The Florida Supreme Court denied the appeal of a former police officer convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder for the deadly 2015 shooting of a Black man whose car had broken down on an interstate off-ramp, the Associated Press reported.

Nouman Raja, formerly an officer for Palm Beach Gardens, is serving a 25-year sentence after becoming the first member of Florida's law enforcement to be convicted of an on-duty killing in nearly 30 years.

A brief statement released by the Florida court said that it would not hear Raja's appeal bid. Five of the court's seven judges signed the decision, affirming an appeals court's April ruling that a defendant can be convicted of both attempted murder and manslaughter in the killing of one person.

Raja's conviction in 2019 for 31-year-old Corey Jones' death was not only rare in Florida, but also puts him among a sparse group of officers who have been convicted of on-duty killings nationwide, according to AP.

He was joined in April by ex-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd, another Black man, spurring nationwide protests against racial injustice.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Florida Court Rejects Appeal
In a decision signed and filed November 5, 2021, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Nouman Raja, a police officer convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder for the fatal shooting a Black motorist whose car had broken down on an interstate off ramp. Above, Raja listens to Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis during his sentencing hearing in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 25, 2019. Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post via AP

Prosecutors declined comment Tuesday. Raja's lead attorney, Steven Malone, and Brown's family did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in April that Raja's 2019 convictions were for distinct crimes, dismissing his lawyers' arguments that the convictions were contradictory and constituted double jeopardy. First, the judges focused on Raja firing two volleys of shots separated by about 10 seconds, the last as Jones ran away.

They agreed with prosecutors, who argued at trial that while they could not prove in which volley the fatal shot was fired, the second volley was a premeditated attempt to kill Jones and qualified as attempted murder.

Second, the judges ruled that manslaughter—an unlawful, intentional killing without premeditation—and attempted murder are not versions of the same charge. Manslaughter requires a death and attempted murder does not, they ruled.

Prosecutors contended Raja escalated what should have been a routine interaction into a deadly confrontation with Jones, a housing inspector and part-time drummer.

Raja, of Asian descent, was in plain clothes for a Palm Beach Gardens auto burglary investigation team when he spotted Jones' SUV at 3:15 a.m. on October 18, 2015.

Jones was headed home from a nightclub performance by his reggae band when his vehicle stalled on a dark Interstate 95 off-ramp. He had a concealed-weapons permit and carried a handgun, purchased days earlier to protect his $10,000 drum set, which was in the SUV.

Raja, wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap, drove an unmarked van the wrong way up an off-ramp within feet of the SUV.

Prosecutors said Raja never identified himself as an officer and acted so aggressively that Jones must have thought he was about to be carjacked or killed. Raja's supervisor testified the officer had been told to don a police vest if he approached a civilian. He didn't, nor did he pull his badge.

What police didn't know at first was that Jones had been talking to a tow-truck dispatcher on a recorded line. That recording shows Jones saying "Huh?" as his door opens. Raja yells, "You good?" Jones says he is. Raja replies twice in an aggressive tone, "Really?" with Jones replying "Yeah."

Suddenly, Raja shouts at Jones to raise his hands, using an expletive. Jones replies, "Hold on!" and Raja repeats his demand.

Prosecutors believe Jones pulled his gun and tried to run away. Raja fired three shots; Jones ran down an embankment. Prosecutors said he threw his gun, but Raja fired three more times, 10 seconds after the first volley. One of the bullets pierced the man's heart. He was also hit in both arms.

Prosecutors said Raja, not knowing of the tow-truck dispatcher recording, sought to deceive investigators. He claimed he said "Police, can I help you?" as Jones jumped from the SUV. He also told them Jones leapt backward and pointed his gun, forcing him to fire. Raja said Jones ran but turned and again pointed his gun, forcing him to fire the second volley.

But Jones' body was found 200 feet (60 meters) from the SUV and 125 feet (38 meters) from his unfired gun. Prosecutors contended he had thrown it away well before Raja fired his second volley.

Former Officer's Appeal Denied
Nouman Raja, formerly an officer for Palm Beach Gardens, is serving a 25-year sentence after becoming the first member of Florida’s law enforcement to be convicted of an on-duty killing in nearly 30 years. Above, Raja enters the courtroom with defense attorney Richard Lubin for closing arguments in his trial on March 6, 2019, in West Palm Beach, Florida. Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post via AP