On the afternoon of Oct. 18, 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin was celebrating a victory over his former team, the Baltimore Ravens. A few minutes later, he was struggling to come to grips with the death of his cousin, Corey Jones, who was shot three times by a plainclothes police officer earlier that day as he waited for a tow truck on the side of the highway in their native Florida.
“How do you go from waiting for help on the side of the road to dead?” Boldin asked Tuesday. “For me, that doesn’t add up.”
Boldin is the most recognizable member of a family desperately seeking answers about the shooting, and he says he is willing to use his NFL prominence to ensure justice is served for Jones, 31, who grew up with Boldin, 35, in Palm Beach County.
“His granddad and my granddad are brothers,” Boldin said. “That’s a cousin I’ve known his entire life. ... Every Sunday you find him in church playing the drums. I think if you talk to anybody, you understand that he was just a good kid all around, which only adds more to the frustration of, ‘How does this happen?’ ”
Jones was a well-known musician, worked two jobs, including for the Delray Beach Housing Authority, and had no history of violence. He was arrested in 2007 for having a concealed firearm. He pleaded not guilty in the case, according to court records, and accepted a deferred prosecution program in place of prosecution.
October 18 phone records show he made several calls to report he was having problems with his SUV as he was driving home from a gig early that morning. His cellphone log indicates he was on the line with roadside assistance at the time of the shooting.
Palm Beach Gardens police said Officer Nouman Raja, who was driving an unmarked van, had stopped to investigate what he thought was an abandoned vehicle around 3:15 a.m. when, according to a police statement, he was “suddenly confronted by an armed subject.”
A gun Jones purchased three days earlier was found on the ground nearby, police said. An attorney hired by the family has said the gun never was fired. The FBI is among the groups investigating the shooting.
Boldin said the man he grew up with never would have been aggressive or confrontational.
Among the questions Boldin wants answered: Did Raja identify himself as a police officer? Did he look up the license plate to see who the vehicle belonged to or if it was stolen? And why was Jones’ body found 80 to 100 feet from his vehicle?
Boldin said there’s been a lack of transparency.
“I find it hard to grieve when you don’t know,” he said. “And at this point, that’s all my family’s asking for – the questions that have yet to be answered. That’s the least you can do.”
Boldin, who has played 13 seasons in the NFL, won a Super Bowl with the Ravens and is among the most fiery players on Sundays, said he’s not out “to bash law enforcement.” He said he has relatives who are police officers and that, through his Pahokee, Fla.-based foundation, has developed ties to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department.
“I know what the job entails; I know the dangers that come with it,” Boldin said. “I understand all of it. But I also understand that every person that’s sworn in isn’t worthy of a badge. And for those that aren’t, they shouldn’t be on the force, period. To me, it seems that he was ill-equipped to handle the situation outright. And his mistakes cost us a family member. And we’ve seen that happen too often. And on the back end, there’s no justice for it.”
Boldin said he’s followed the cases involving Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and other recent high-profile deaths of black men and that he has always sympathized with what the families involved have endured.
“But when it hits home, it’s a completely different moment,” he said. “I can’t even explain it to you, the feeling that you have. It’s one thing to see it happen on TV at a distance. But when it hits home, it’s surreal. And the fact that it happens so often, sometimes we get numb to it. ‘Oh, that’s just another incident.’ And I don’t think each individual case gets the attention that it needs – at all.”
Boldin has two sons, and he said he doesn’t want them to fear the police.
“I want my son to grow up respecting law enforcement, not fearing, ‘If I break down, I can’t call the police’ or, ‘If I’m in a sticky situation, I can’t call the police,’ ” he said. “The police are here to protect and serve. That’s what they’re sworn to do; that’s what they’re paid to do.
“But there’s instances where that doesn’t happen. My cousin wasn’t protected. They didn’t serve him. He needed assistance. But instead he got a death sentence.”