Corey Jones’ huge grin was spread across a golden canvas covered with the wishes, hopes and prayers of people from across Palm Beach County who united in his memory last month.
Palm Beach Gardens commissioned Miami-based artist Phil Fung paint the image of Jones during Unity Day with his aunt and uncle’s permission. Throughout the course of the day, people could write their wishes and dreams for the future on Post-It notes and turn them in to be incorporated into the painting.
Palm Beach Gardens presented Jones’ aunt Sheila Banks and uncle Terry Banks with the painting at Thursday night’s City Council meeting.
“The photo – it just warms your heart,” Sheila Banks said.
Terry Banks thanked the city for its efforts to give healing to the county and, hopefully, the nation.
“It’s bittersweet, but we’re totally grateful. Just seeing his smile, it brings back so many memories,” Terry Banks said.
Palm Beach Gardens partnered with the Anita Banks Justice for Corey Foundation to host Unity Day, which included a unity choir, other live performances, games for children and a market.
Jones, 31, was fatally shot Oct. 18, 2015, by former Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja. Raja has since been fired and is facing criminal charges.
Palm Beach Gardens officials also shared their thoughts yesterday afternoon. Here’s what they said.
City Manager Ron Ferris: “That’s his decision,” he said. “I trust them to do the right thing.”
Mayor Marcie Tinsley provided a written statement late Wednesday night:
“With a tragedy of this nature, a grand jury is oftentimes part of the process. I expect a timely and thorough decision so the family can have closure, and this community can move forward together.”
Councilman David Levy: “I’m going to assume the grand jury will weigh the evidence and justice is served. That’s my hope,” he said.
Jones was waiting for roadside assistance on the off-ramp of I-95 southbound at PGA Boulevard in the early hours of Oct. 18 approached his vehicle when he was shot and killed by Nouman Raja. Palm Beach Gardens later fired Raja.
Police Chief Stephen Stepp said it’s been a dream for them for many years to have the highest level of training. The center will provide that.
“This means the world to us,” he said, thanking city officials for their support.
About 15 uniformed officers and dozens of other people attended a ground-breaking Thursday afternoon for the center, which will be next to police headquarters and City Hall.
Officers have been using the Martin Correctional Institution’s facility 45 minutes away. Palm Beach Gardens police complete at least 96 hours of in-house training each year, far more than the state requirement of 40 hours every four years, Stepp said.
The city hopes to partner with other agencies to train together at the roughly 9,000 square foot center, he said. They’ll practice skills such as dealing with resistance, less-lethal tactics and arrest techniques. A driving simulator can prepare police for pursuits and driving in dangerous conditions, Stepp said.
Plans for the training center preceded the fatal shooting of Corey Jones in October by plainclothes officer Nouman Raja. The 31-year-old part-time drummer from Boynton Beach whose car had broken down after a night gig had pulled over on the Interstate 95 PGA exit ramp. He was armed but did not fire his gun.
The city has since fired Raja, who was about halfway through a probationary period after his hiring in April.
Stepp said the training center has been in the works for about two years.
“We’re always trying to find better ways and better equipment to serve our community and keep our officers safe,” he said. “Continuous improvement is one of our mottos.”
City Council awarded two contracts for the center, totaling $2.6 million, in August. West Palm Beach-based Sisca Construction Services is building it. Action Target, a Utah company, will manufacture and install targets, along with sound-proof and bullet-proof materials.
At the end of the groundbreaking, those in attendance received challenge coins that have “Palm Beach Gardens Police Department” and the seal engraved on one side and an eagle on the other. Challenge coins were traditionally used by the military to prove membership and enhance morale.
The eagle represents freedom and strength, Stepp said. Its head is turned toward the talon holding an olive branch to remind police to extend peace and help others whenever possible. A quiver of arrows in the eagle’s other talon are a reminder of the dangers they face, Stepp said.
A shield represents the Amercian flag, and the three stars on it stand for the department’s core values: respect, accountability and professionalism, he said.
A month after Corey Jones was laid to rest, his death continues to galvanize calls from the community for greater police accountability.
Derrick McCray, owner of McCray’s Backyard BBQ, has been part of meetings between city leaders and local clergy. He also helped organize a rally along PGA Boulevard outside the Gardens Mall in November.
For instance, they want to know who was supervising Raja the night he shot and killed Jones, a 31-year-old drummer and property manager for the Delray Beach Housing Authority. That’s what they hope to find out during the 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 10500 N. Military Trail, he said.
“We at least need some explanation on who else was accountable…” McCray said.
Jones car broke down on the way home from a gig and he was waiting for a tow truck on the exit ramp of I-95 southbound at PGA Boulevard in the early morning hours of Oct. 18, police have said.
Raja, who was in plain clothes and driving an unmarked van, came upon what he said he thought was an abandoned vehicle. He eventually fired at Jones six times, killing him with three gunshots, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office has said. Palm Beach Gardens police have said Raja fired after he saw Jones had a legally-purchased gun.
McCray emphasized city officials have been very hospitable, meeting with he and local clergy to discuss possible changes to the department, such as diversity training and body cameras. Their input will help with crafting the language for a proposed law in Jones’ name, he said.
“We can’t live in a lawless society. We’re not against the police, but we just feel that some reforms need to be made in order for another Corey Jones situation not to take place,” McCray said.