FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – A Florida detective said a police officer on trial for killing a stranded black motorist gave an interview to investigators shortly after the shooting that doesn’t match other evidence, including an audio recording of the confrontation that neither side then knew existed.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Kaprinski told jurors Wednesday there are discrepancies between the statements then-Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja told him and others four hours after the Oct. 18, 2015, shooting, and a recording of a phone call Corey Jones, 31, was making to a tow truck dispatch center.
Judge Joseph Marx would not allow Kaprinski to elaborate, but prosecutors played the video-recorded interview for the four-man, two-woman panel at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach. They heard the tow truck audio Tuesday, the trial’s first day of testimony.
Raja’s attorneys say any discrepancies between the interview and the shooting audio were caused by stress fogging the officer’s memory, and were not lies or attempts to mislead.
Raja, who is 41 and of South Asian descent, told Kaprinski and other detectives he was participating in a plain-clothes investigation of auto burglaries when he spotted Jones’ SUV, parked and dark, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at about 3:15 a.m. He told detectives he thought it was abandoned, so he drove his unmarked white van the wrong way up the ramp and pulled in front of it at an angle.
He said as he got out, Jones jumped out yelling, “I’m good, I’m good.” Raja, who was dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and cap with no police markings, said he responded, “Police, can I help you?” He said Jones leapt backward and pointed a gun at him, forcing him to pull his own gun and fire.
“I didn’t want to die,” Raja told investigators, saying visions of his family flashed before his eyes. Raja appeared to tear up Wednesday as he watched the video. Some of Jones’ family walked out.
Raja told investigators he wasn’t sure if he hit Jones, who ran down a swale. He said he tracked Jones, pointing his gun and yelling for Jones to drop his, as he simultaneously dialed 911 with his cellphone in his other hand. He said just as 911 answered, Jones turned and again pointed his gun. Raja, a police firearms instructor, said he yelled “Aim!” at himself and pointed his gun at Jones’ chest, methodically firing more shots. He said Jones and his gun dropped.
At the time of this videotaped interview, neither Raja nor investigators knew about the tow truck dispatch recording, which prosecutors say points to a different sequence of events. Kaprinski said he learned of the tow-truck call five days after the shooting. Prosecutors say it shows that Raja’s actions made Jones think he was being robbed, causing Jones, who had a concealed weapons permit, to pull his gun. Nowhere in the recording is Raja heard identifying himself as a police officer.