Family: Corey Jones didn't shoot before being killed by plainclothes police officer

Man shot by police officer after car breaks down
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Story highlights

  • Lawyer: Corey Jones was shot 3 times, his body was found away from his gun and car
  • His family doesn't think Jones understood the plainclothes police officer he met was "real"
  • Jones' brother wants justice, but doesn't believe the fact Corey was black is relevant

(CNN)How was Corey Jones supposed to know that the man who drove up to him on dark Florida highway in an unmarked white van with tinted windows; who walked out in a t-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap; who never showed a badge; and who ultimately shot him dead was a police officer?

Jones' family posed many questions in a meeting with State Attorney Dave Aronberg on Thursday, four days after the deadly shooting. But making sense of how the plainclothes Palm Beach Gardens officer interacted with the late 31-year-old drummer, and what Jones could have done about it, topped the list.
"He doesn't know if he's about to be mugged, he's about to be robbed, he's about to be killed," family lawyer Benjamin Crump said of Jones after the meeting with the Florida prosecutor. "Imagine yourselves on the side of the road at 3 in the morning, abandoned, the sense of concern you would have (while) waiting for a tow truck and an unmarked van rolls up."
    Authorities haven't said a great deal about the Sunday incident, but lawyers for Jones did relate new details Thursday that they said they'd been told.
    Among them was that Jones did have a gun that night. He had it legally, including a concealed carry permit, but didn't fire it once, according to Crump. Jones' gun was not next to him when he died about 80 to 100 feet from his car, having at some point tried to run away, according to the Jones family's lawyers.
    The plainclothes officer fired six shots, three of which hit Jones -- including one that struck his aorta -- the attorneys said. Not that he necessarily knew who, really, had opened fire.
    "We believe Corey went to his grave not knowing if this was a real cop or not," said Crump.

    Source: Jones, officer misidentified each other

    Jones had just played a gig and was heading home early Sunday when his car broke down. He called his big brother C.J., who offered to come get him only to have Corey tell him he wanted to stay with the car "because I have to perform at church with the choir the next morning," according to Crump.
    Another call went out to friend and bandmate Mathew Huntsberger, who went to see Jones on the side of the road.
    He left after Jones called a tow truck, telling CNN, "We didn't think anything was going to happen."
    Around 3 a.m., Palm Beach Gardens police Officer Nouman Raja pulled up to check out what he thought was an abandoned car. Raja was on duty but was wearing civilian clothing and driving an unmarked car, police Chief Stephen Stepp told reporters earlier this week.
    "As the officer exited his vehicle, he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject," Stepp said. "As a result of the confrontation, the officer discharged his firearm, resulting in the death of Mr. Corey Jones."
    Yet Jones' family has a hard time believing this is exactly what happened, noting that Raja is the only one alive who can tell his side of the story. Jones' father, Clinton Jones Sr., says he taught his children "to be respectable and to respect the law."
    And his brother C.J., or Clinton Jones Jr., said the kind, happy Corey Jones he knew wouldn't knowingly challenge a police officer with a gun.
    "We know that he would not ever, ever, ever, ever, ever pull a gun on a police (officer). Never," Clinton Jones Jr. said. "This is not like him, and we need answers."
    A source close to the investigation told CNN on condition of anonymity Wednesday that investigators think the shooting stemmed from Jones and Raja misidentifying each other. Raja felt he had to check the car because burglars had parked near the ramp where Jones' vehicle was, the source said.
    The anonymous source added that investigators believe Raja may not have made it sufficiently clear he was an officer and that Jones may not have heard what the officer said.

    Sister: Corey Jones a 'responsible' gun owner

    Authorities said they recovered a handgun at the scene and paperwork showed Jones bought it three days before the shooting. His family doesn't deny he owned a gun, but insisted he did so legally.
    Melissa Jones said her brother advised her, as a licensed braider living about 400 miles away in Tallahassee, to get a gun for protection just like he did.
    "'Make sure that you have your permits,'" she recalled Corey saying. "He made sure of that, because my brother was responsible."
    She and other family members described him as a warm, loving and kind man. His lifelong love of drumming was matched by his selfless nature, whether it was mentoring with the non-profit group My Brother's Keeper, teaching children music for free or raising the spirits of his loved ones with his smile, warmth and positivity.
    "He ... could bring the selfless part out of the hardest person, he could bring that out of you," Melissa Jones said.
    "Times I didn't want to laugh, I didn't want to smile, my brother would ... know what to say to me... He knew what do ... He knew, he knew. He could feel from afar."

    Brother: 'This is not a black thing'

    Jones' death has sparked an outcry, including a South Florida rally on Thursday attended by hundreds and a social media blitz using hashtags #Justice4Corey and #CoreyJones.
    As to Raja, who has worked for the police department since April, he is on paid administrative leave as investigators look into the shooting.
    "(The family) wants the truth to come out, they want answers, they want justice," Crump said. "And if (Officer Raja) did improper things, if he used excessive force, you want him to be held accountable to the full measure of the law."
    This incident could also serve as a catalyst for change when it comes to plainclothes police officers, Crump said, pointing to cases in South Florida of people who've impersonated law enforcement.
    "What is the policy so that people in South Florida would understand that, if you were ever approached by a non-uniformed cop, how do we really know that's a cop?" the lawyer said. "Isn't the burden on the cop to make sure the citizen knows that he's the real cop?"
    The Jones family wants more than that, too, like an explanation of why it took them about 38 hours to learn that Corey had been killed. But what they don't want, brother C.J. said, is for this fatal shooting to be turned into a racial issue.
    Yes, Corey Jones was African-American, as were Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who died in confrontations with police officers that stirred up tensions and a nationwide debate over interactions between blacks and police. But race is not necessarily relevant here.
    "This is not a black thing," C.J. said, noting his own wife is white. "... No disrespect about Black Lives Matter, (but) all lives matter. And my brother had plenty of friends -- white friends, Asian friends, it didn't matter."
    What does matter is getting some resolution, some justice for Corey.
    "I need some answers," a tearful Clinton Jones Sr. told reporters Thursday. "I need to know why. Why is my son gone today? Why?"