Operator who heard Corey Jones shooting recalls encounter

Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer on Oct. 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of WPTV.
Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer on Oct. 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of WPTV.

It was only Madeline Tolliver’s fifth day on the job at a call center for Allied Dispatch Solutions. And the first two were for training.

She introduced herself as Maddie to the predawn caller who calmly told her his name was Corey Jones and asked for a tow truck because his car wouldn’t start. Moments later, Tolliver, a 27-year-old woman in Johnson City, Tenn., became a witness — albeit 800 miles away — to the shooting of Corey Jones by then-Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja.

The emotional impact on Tolliver was clear in her recorded interview with FBI agents on Nov. 3, 2015, about two weeks after the shooting. The interview was released Tuesday by prosecutors as they prepare to bring Raja, 39, to trial on criminal charges. The two agents interviewed Tolliver with an attorney present in the city about 100 miles northeast of Knoxville, near the North Carolina border.

Prosecutors said officer lied in Corey Jones’ shooting

Over the hum of workers in the nearby call center, Tolliver told agents she hadn’t read or seen anything about the man whose last moments she overheard. By then, however, Jones’ case had become the latest in a string of national news stories about fatal police encounters with black men.

The FBI agents played the entire recording of the phone call for Tolliver, including the nearly 40 minutes Jones spent on hold.

Right after Jones told her he was at Interstate 95 and PGA Boulevard, Raja’s unmarked van pulled up perpendicular to Jones’ car and an FBI animated reenactment, also released Tuesday, indicates Raja approached Jones’ car.

Tolliver asks her next question — Are there any landmarks? — but in reply all she hears is the clanging of Jones’ car to indicate that the driver’s side door is open with the keys in the ignition.

Then comes the brief exchange between Jones and Raja, in which Jones tells the out-of-uniform officer “I’m good,” followed by three gunshots.

“Oh, my gosh,” Tolliver says.

Blood-covered Raja on night of Corey Jones shooting: ‘I need to wash this off me’

Then, seconds later, “umm,” followed by the three methodical gunshots that authorities say included the killing blow. Tolliver utters “umm, there’s gunshots.”

And finally, all that can be heard is the clanging of the car alarm.

The playback stopped. Tolliver said nothing.

“Are you OK?” an agent asked.

“Yes,” she replied, her voice a tight whisper, so strained that her response sounded more like a question.

Tolliver said she never would have guessed that the voice that interrupted her conversation with Jones belonged to a police officer.

All she knew is the other man cursed at Jones, telling him to “get the eff back” or something like that.

“After that I stood up and I flagged for a supervisor to come over,” Tolliver told the agents, later adding: “I told him that I heard gunshots, and I didn’t hear anything else, and I didn’t know what to do.”

She and her supervisor sat for a few moments and tried to figure out what to do next. Because Tolliver hadn’t been able to pinpoint an exact address for Jones by the time of the shooting, neither she nor her supervisor had any idea who to call for help.

Corey Jones shooting coverage from the beginning: News, videos, analysis, photos

They finally decided that Tolliver should hang up and call back in hopes the caller would answer. By then, the investigation reveals, Jones likely was dead.

Tolliver said her mother, who also worked at the call center, was sitting behind her and heard her say that she heard gunshots. Her mother and a couple of supervisors were the only people Tolliver said she told about the incident.

Mother and daughter talked about it as they drove home that night. Tolliver said that by the time she got home, her husband was asleep, so she didn’t tell him about it until the next day.

By the time of the interview, Tolliver was still just three weeks into her new job. Before that, she told agents, she had worked for nearly a year at a local Wal-Mart.

After the shooting, Tolliver’s employers, Allied Dispatch Solutions, came under fire after it was revealed that it took five calls and about an hour of total time on hold before Jones and Tolliver connected.

The recordings indicate that Jones, despite his long predawn wait with a stalled car, remained calm and courteous.

Just 18 days before the shooting, AT&T had changed subcontractors overseeing its roadside assistance service, bringing in the startup company marred by internal problems, including lost calls, inexperienced help and long waits.

One former manager for  Allied told The Palm Beach Post in 2016 that Jones’ situation wasn’t handled properly, and that equipment failures might have been to blame.

“He could have been off the side of the road by the time this happened,” he said.

Others in the competitive roadside assistance industry reacted in horror to Jones’ experience. They described it as far outside the industry norm.

However it came to be, the recorded roadside assistance call proved key to prosecutors’ quest to build a criminal case against Raja, who drove up on Jones in an unmarked van and approached him without a police vest, badge or anything else to indicate he was a police officer.

Several statements Raja made to investigators in a walk-through of the scene hours after the shooting directly contradict the recording.

Jones’ brother, Clinton “C.J.” Jones Jr., said Wednesday that he and family members discussed what must have been going through Tolliver’s mind during those harrowing moments, and wondered aloud whether his family could do anything to support her while they themselves are still dealing with their loss.

“Could you imagine what it would have been like to go through something like that? It’s like something out of a movie,” C.J. Jones said of Tolliver’s experience. “But if it wasn’t for her being there, staying on the line with him, we wouldn’t have heard what happened.”

Corey Jones supporters to picket Palm Beach police union office

imageLocal protesters will be joined by members of the Fort Lauderdale chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement Saturday for a planned rally outside the offices of the Palm Beach Police Benevolent Association.

The protest is over union officials’ decision to pay for the criminal defense of Nouman Raja, a former Palm Beach Gardens police officer now facing manslaughter and attempted murder charges in the death of 31-year-old drummer Corey Jones, a stranded motorist Raja shot and killed in October while in plainclothes.

A Facebook page for Black Lives Matter Fort Lauderdale showed a post dated Monday urging supporters to show up to the offices at 2100 N Florida Mango Road in West Palm Beach for a protest to begin at 5 p.m.

The protest was organized by Michael C. Marsh, a childhood friend of Jones and author of the #JusticeforCoreyJones facebook page.

Nouman Raja’s case assigned to Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer

060316+raja+first+appearance+04Nouman Raja’s attempted murder and manslaughter case in the Oct. 18 death of Corey Jones has been assigned to first-term felony circuit judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer.

According to court records, Raja – who was released from jail early Friday after prosecutors announced his arrest Wednesday – will be arraigned June 14 at the Palm Beach County Jail. But after that, Feuer will preside over all hearings in the case, including an eventual trial or plea.

Raja, 38,  was a Palm Beach Gardens Police officer working a plainclothes burglary detail when he shot Jones, a  31-year-old drummer whose car had broken down on Interstate 95 on his way home from a gig. He faces up to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter charge but up to life in prison if convicted on attempted first degree murder.

Corey Jones, who was shot on Oct. 11, 2014. (Post file photo)
Corey Jones, who was shot on Oct. 11, 2014. (Post file photo)

The case is easily the highest-profile matter Feuer has handled in her two years on the bench, although she has tried both a number of capital felony cases as well as cases against police officers accused of committing crimes on duty.

In September, less than a month before Jones’ death, Feuer presided over the trial of former Boynton Beach Police officer Stephen Maiorino, who a jury acquitted in the alleged 2014 rape of a 20-year-old woman while on duty.

Feuer was elected to a six year term in 2014, when she ran unopposed to replace Judge Sandra McSorley. Before taking the bench, she worked as a civil attorney and also as a civil prosecutor with Florida’s Attorney General.

 

Corey Jones shooting: Nouman Raja posts bail, will stay overnight in jail

UPDATE 4:25 p.m.: Nouman Raja will spend another night in the Palm Beach County Jail, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s official.

Raja has met his $250,000 bond set Thursday morning, but he remains in jail while his home is outfitted to meet the requirements of house arrest, the official said.

Ex-officer Nouman Raja, charged with the shooting death of Corey Jones, enters court Thursday morning, June 2, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Ex-officer Nouman Raja, charged with the shooting death of Corey Jones, enters court Thursday morning, June 2, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

» RELATED: More coverage of the Corey Jones shooting

“It’s really just moving him from one cell to another cell,” the official said.

Raja, facing charges of manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder, is expected to leave the jail Friday.

— Staff writer Jorge Milian

UPDATE 1:40 p.m.: Former officer Nouman Raja remains in custody at the Palm Beach County Jail while the sheriff’s office sets up a monitoring system at his suburban Lake Worth home, a sheriff’s spokesperson said.

It isn’t yet clear whether Raja has posted bail, or when the monitoring system will be set up. Once the system is in place, Raja will be transported by deputies from the jail to his home, where he will remain on house arrest.

ORIGINAL STORY: A Palm Beach County judge on Thursday morning set bond for the former police officer who shot and killed musician Corey Jones at $250,000.

Nouman Raja appeared in handcuffs and blue prison garb before Circuit Judge Joseph Marx. Raja was arrested Wednesday and charged with first degree attempted murder and manslaughter by culpable negligence.

Other terms of Raja’s release: He is on house arrest with a GPS monitor, must surrender his passport, cannot work in law enforcement, must surrender any guns to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and must have no contact with the Jones family or with the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department.

Raja’s arraignment has been set for June 14 at 1:30 p.m.

Before Raja, 38, entered court, it was announced that prosecutors and Raja’s attorney, Richard Lubin, had reached an agreement on Raja’s bail.

Raja’s brother, Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy Adnan Raja, sat in a bench on one side of the courtroom, while friends and family members of Jones sat on the other side.

This hearing comes less than a day after Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced that a grand jury had deemed Raja’s actions in Jones’ Oct. 18 shooting death unjustified, and that Aronberg’s office subsequently charged with the two felony counts for which he could face up to life in prison if convicted of both.

Raja was in plainclothes and drove an unmarked van when he approached Jones’ broken-down car on Interstate 95.

According to Raja’s arrest report, he never identified himself as a police officer and started shooting at Jones — who was on the phone with a roadside assistance call center — after repeatedly asking him if he was “good” before shouting at him to get his hands up.

Jones’ family members will hold a news conference at the courthouse at 11:30 a.m.

Corey Jones family to hold rally at burial site

Corey Jones, a 31-year-old drummer and property manager, was shot to death Oct. 18.
Corey Jones, a 31-year-old drummer and property manager, was shot to death Oct. 18.

The family of Corey Jones, the 31-year-old drummer and stranded motorist fatally shot by a police officer last year, will mark the seven-month anniversary of his death Wednesday with a rally at his burial site.

The rally will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Boynton Beach Mausoleum, 1611 S. Seacrest Blvd. Jones family attorney Kweku Darfoor last week said the gathering will offer a chance for Jones’ cousins and other younger members of his family to publicly express their grief.

Last month, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced plans to allow a grand jury to decide whether Raja should face criminal charges – a move that dismayed family members and community leaders who had hoped Aronberg would skip that process and use his power to charge Raja directly.

Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on Oct. 18, 2015.
Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on Oct. 18, 2015.

Jones, 31, was on his way home from a gig on Oct. 18 when his car broke down on Interstate 95 at the southbound PGA Boulevard exit. Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja, who was working a burglary prevention detail in plainclothes, drove up on Jones in an unmarked van and eventually shot him three times.

Raja, who was on probation with the department and has since been fired, said he shot Jones because he believed he was coming towards him with a gun.

Rally protesting Corey Jones case decision cancelled

State Attorney Dave Aronberg addresses members of the media during a press conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday April 27, 2016. Aronberg announced during a news conference Wednesday that his office would continue its investigation of former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja in the shooting death of musician Corey Jones. (Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
State Attorney Dave Aronberg addresses members of the media during a press conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday April 27, 2016. Aronberg announced during a news conference Wednesday that his office would continue its investigation of former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja in the shooting death of musician Corey Jones. (Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Community leaders have cancelled a planned rally Thursday to protest Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s decision to refer to a grand jury the case of the police officer who shot Corey Jones.

The event, which was planned even before Aronberg announced last week that a grand jury panel will decide whether Nouman Raja will face criminal charges by the end of next month, was to come just days after the group Anonymous threatened Aronberg with calls and protests of their own unless he changed course.

Community leaders advertised the rally to be held at the Palm Beach State Attorneys office but announced online that it had been canceled. As of Thursday, no new date had been set.

Raja shot and killed Jones Oct. 18 after the now-fired officer drove up on him in the off-ramp of interstate 95 at PGA Boulevard. Jones’ SUV had broken down while he was on his way home from a professional drumming gig.

The State Attorney’s office and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies began immediately investigating the shooting, and the FBI joined the probe soon afterward.

Prosecutors could have concluded on their own that Raja should face no criminal charges but could have also skipped the grand jury process and charged him directly. Community leaders after Aronberg’s decision said they felt he should have charged Raja.

A Facebook post Friday from the group Anonymous Florida threatened to flood Aronberg’s phones and social media outlets with messages if he didn’t either resign or charge Raja by Wednesday.

Aronberg so far has declined to comment on the group’s ultimatum.

 

Six months after Corey Jones death, family seeks answers

By now, Clinton Jones Sr. said Monday, he thought he would know whether the police officer who shot and killed his son Corey six months ago would face criminal charges.

image
(Palm Beach Post staff)

Instead, prosecutors have told him that they are still in the end stages of a three-agency investigation into former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja, the plainclothes officer who was still on probation when he had the deadly Oct. 18 encounter with the stranded 31-year-old motorist.

“I would think that by now they would have had enough time to do whatever they needed to do,” Clinton Jones, Sr. said Monday during a rally outside the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office. “We’re going to keep fighting for justice, though, and we need all of you to fight with us.”

In the shadow of officer-involved shootings like the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and others, Jones’ case has garnered little national attention since the first few weeks after news broke of the popular professional drummer’s death.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg has urged the public to remain patient as his office, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI complete their investigation.

Jones’s father, his brother C.J. and others say they understand the investigation takes time, but in the meantime they struggle with unanswered questions surrounding Corey Jones’ death.

C.J. Jones, who said his daughters have built a deep resentment of police since their uncle’s death, made an appeal to law enforcement.

“We need the good cops to step up,” he said. “We need the good officers to come up, and help us get rid of these bad ones, so we can all protect the community together.”

Raja told investigators after the shooting that he was forced to fire on Jones because Jones came at him with a gun. Jones’ newly purchased gun, for which he had a permit, was found at some point between his broken down car and where his body came to rest.

Raja fired his gun six times, hitting Jones three times. Ballistics reports show Jones’ gun was never fired.

Another case involving officer who shot Corey Jones ends in plea

Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on Oct. 18, 2015.
Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on Oct. 18, 2015.

A Palm Beach Gardens woman facing charges of drug possession and driving with a suspended license has become the latest person arrested by the same officer who shot Corey Jones to accept a plea offer and avoid a potential trial.

According to court records, former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja arrested 35-year-old Melanie Navarro on August 18, exactly two months before his deadly encounter with 31-year-old stranded motorist Corey Jones, who was waiting for a tow truck  at the exit ramp of Interstate 95 at PGA Boulevard when Raja approached him in plainclothes and eventually opened fire, killing him.

» RELATED: Read The Palm Beach Post’s full coverage of the Corey Jones shooting

Navarro was charged possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, possession of drug paraphernalia, and driving on a suspended license. According to court records, Navarro accepted a plea agreement Wednesday and was sentenced to the 32 days she has already served in jail on the charges.

Raja, an eight-year veteran with the Atlantis Police Department, began working for Palm Beach Gardens Police in April and was still on probation at the time he shot Jones. Raja said he shot Jones because the popular drummer came towards him with a gun.

Corey Jones, a 31-year-old drummer and property manager, was shot to death Oct. 18.
Corey Jones, a 31-year-old drummer and property manager, was shot to death Oct. 18.

Palm Beach Gardens fired Raja shortly after the shooting but offered no reason. Because he was still on probation, they explained, they could fire him without cause.

Since Jones’ shooting, prosecutors have either dropped charges against or made plea offers to at least a half dozen defendants in cases for which Raja was the arresting officer.

In one of the most recent cases, Matthew Oshman was facing burglary, petit theft and other charges connected to three separate cases but took a plea and agreed to a term of probation that included jail time on the morning his trial was to begin.