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Black Lawmakers Want Independent Review Of Police Shooting

Kristen M. Clark
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus speak at a press conference Wednesday at the Florida Capitol, calling on Gov. Rick Scott to launch an independent investigation into the police-involved shooting death of Corey Jones in Palm Beach County.

Outrage over the fatal shooting of a Boynton Beach man by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer reached the state Capitol on Wednesday, as members of the black legislative caucus called for an independent review of the man's death.

They also called for legislation that would put safeguards in place for future incidents, including body cameras for law-enforcement officers, dashboard cameras for police vehicles and automatic reviews of all police-related shootings.

Meanwhile, two investigations are underway in the death of Corey Jones, 31, a musician whose car stalled on an Interstate 95 exit ramp early Sunday after a gig. He was shot by a plainclothes officer in an unmarked car. Jones' gun, which he had purchased three days before, was found at the scene, but it was unclear whether it had been fired.

"This has to stop," state Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, said. "There is no evidence that we have seen that indicates this man was a troublemaker. He doesn't have a record. My community is frustrated, and rightfully so."

Prominent civil-rights attorney Benjamin Crump, whose clients have included the family of Trayvon Martin, is representing Jones' family.

Officer Nouman Raja is on administrative leave pending the investigations, one led by Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and the other by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that Scott had spoken with Bradshaw and Aronberg, as well as with Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, and that the governor had offered FDLE's help with the investigations.

Black caucus Chairman Ed Narain, D-Tampa, suggested that a bill filed for the 2015 legislative session by Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, offers a plan for conducting an independent review.

The bill, which would have automatically spurred reviews of police shootings, called for creating a commission of 15 members appointed by the FDLE commissioner. At least five members could not be current or former law enforcement officers. The measure did not pass during the 2015 session.

"There are some times where there is some doubt and distrust by the community," Watson said. "I believe this bill will get a second set of eyes and hopefully restore the confidence of our community back with our police departments."

Members of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, as the caucus is formally known, said Raja was not wearing a body camera during the incident, nor did his van have a camera on the dashboard.

"If this officer had been equipped with a body camera, there would be evidence to show … what happened prior to the shooting," Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said. "The evidence is now up to the officer, because Corey Jones is no longer living."

Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, who is running for U.S. Senate next year, also weighed in, calling for the passage of a bill creating a grant program to provide federal funding to law enforcement agencies to buy body cameras. Murphy co-sponsored the measure, known as the Police Camera Act, when it was introduced earlier this year by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.

"While there is an ongoing investigation into the death of Corey Jones, it is an unfortunate reality that all the details of what happened that night will never be known," Murphy said in a statement. "That is why it is vital that law enforcement officers --- including plainclothes officers --- be equipped with body cameras so that when terrible tragedies like this happen, we have a real window into what occurred."

The legislative black caucus also called for police training that includes an examination of racial bias.

Some of the mistrust, Narain said, was due to a lack of transparency by the Palm Beach Gardens police, who delayed notifying Jones' family of his death or releasing the details.

"It is these types of delays and the lack of evidence that continue to create distrust between communities of color and local police departments," Narain said. "It is a source of anguish and frustration for black people nationwide, and legislative action and enforcement appears to be the only proper remedy."