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Florida sheriff's office releases bodycam video of fatal shooting of Air Force airman by deputy

The video shows the deputy knocking and twice identifying himself as a member of the sheriff’s office, before Senior Airman Roger Fortson opens the door and is shot.
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The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office released police body camera video Thursday showing one of its deputies shooting and killing an Air Force airman at his off-base apartment last week.

Senior Airman Roger Fortson, 23, was shot late Friday afternoon by a deputy responding to a call of a disturbance in progress, the sheriff’s office said. Okaloosa County is in the Florida Panhandle, east of Pensacola.

The video, which lasts just more than four minutes, begins as the deputy arrives at Fortson’s apartment complex and ends after Fortson has been shot and the deputy calls for medical assistance.

Earlier Thursday, attorneys for Fortson's family had called for the sheriff's office to “correct the narrative” surrounding his death, saying that he had done nothing wrong before being fatally shot and that the deputy had gone to the wrong door.

At a news conference hours later, Sheriff Eric Aden said no determination had been made as to whether the deputy’s actions were justified.

“I want to assure you that we are not hiding or covering up or taking action that would result in a rush to judgment of Mr. Fortson or our deputy,” Aden said.

He said the deputy had not entered the wrong apartment or forced his way into Fortson’s residence, and that the deputy twice identified himself. Aden did not take any questions from reporters.

Fortson’s mother and her attorneys said at a news conference that his girlfriend, who was on a FaceTime call with him throughout the encounter, said that the deputy burst into the wrong unit and fatally shot Fortson when he saw he was armed with a gun. They said the girlfriend, who did not attend the news conference, was distraught. They watched the video after their news conference and before it was released publicly.

The video shows the deputy arriving on scene and being directed to apartment 1401 by a woman whose face is blurred. The woman tells him that someone had overheard arguing there.

The video shows the deputy knocking and twice saying, “Sheriff’s office. Open the door.”

When Fortson opens the door, he appears to be holding a gun that is facing downward. The deputy says, “Step back,” and fires his weapon multiple times. Fortson falls to the floor. The deputy twice yells, “Drop the gun,” to which Fortson replies, “It’s over there.”

The deputy then calls for medical assistance.

“He lost his life because they knocked on the wrong door. Mistakes happen. We know that,” said Brian Barr, one of the family’s attorneys, before the video was released. “Humans aren’t perfect. Good people make mistakes. But good people also own their mistakes.”

military air force airman killed by Okaloosa Sheriff
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson, 23.U.S. Air Force

He said the sheriff’s office, through its statement about the shooting, had misled the public.

“You go pick it up and read it. What’s it make you think? It makes you think this happened outside. That this kid was in the middle of a disturbance,” Barr said. “And he did something. He instigated this and lost his life. That’s what it makes it sound like. It sounded justified. That’s what they tried to make it sound like.”

In its statement, the sheriff’s office said: “Our deputy responded to a call of a disturbance in progress where he encountered an armed man. The deputy shot the man, who later succumbed to his injuries.”

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is also representing Fortson’s family, had also criticized the sheriff’s office’s account before the video’s release.

Fortson’s mother, Chantemekki Fortson, held a framed photograph of her son in his uniform. She said he had aspired to be in the Air Force since he was a young boy and was living his dream. She described him as compassionate, intelligent, loving and respectful.

She implored the sheriff’s department, which she said, “took my gift,” to release more information about the encounter.

“I need you to get his reputation right,” Chantemekki Fortson said. “Tell the truth about my son. I know my son didn’t do anything to you guys. Please clean my baby’s reputation.”

After the video’s release, Fortson’s family said in a statement: “In the four-and-a-half minute, heavily redacted video, it is very troubling that the deputy gave no verbal commands and shot multiple times within a split second of the door being opened, killing Roger.”

They said the video has provided some answers, but “also raised even more troubling questions.” They questioned, among other things, why the deputy didn’t tell Fortson to drop his weapon before shooting and whether he had tried to initiate lifesaving measures. They also said that even though Fortson’s girlfriend initially thought his apartment door had been forced open, she stands by her account and will speak publicly in the near future.

The sheriff’s office has said the deputy, who has not been publicly identified, heard “sounds of a disturbance” and “reacted in self defense” after he encountered Fortson armed with a gun and after he had identified himself as law enforcement.

But Fortson’s mother and her attorneys said that Fortson was on the FaceTime call with his girlfriend during the entire encounter and that he was home alone when he heard a knock at his door. He asked, “Who is it?” but didn’t get a response, Crump said in a statement Wednesday and at his news conference.

Crump said Thursday that Fortson did not see anyone when he looked through the peephole and it appeared as if someone was covering it, citing the girlfriend. The video does not appear to show the deputy cover the peephole. He appears to be standing to the side of the door when he knocks and announces himself the first time.

Fortson believed someone was attempting to break into his apartment, Barr said. So he retrieved his gun, which his family’s attorneys said was legally owned. As he walked back through his living room, law enforcement burst through the door, saw that Fortson was armed and shot him six times, according to the girlfriend’s account. He was taken to a hospital where he later died, the sheriff’s office said.

The girlfriend said she saw Fortson on the ground saying, “I can’t breathe,” after he was shot. She said she believed law enforcement had gone to the wrong unit, because there was no disturbance in Fortson’s apartment and he was home alone.

Chantimekki Fortson said her son’s girlfriend called her while she was still on the FaceTime call. The grieving mother said her son was shot three times in the chest and three times in the left arm.

Fortson was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron. Hurlburt Field, the Air Force base where he was assigned, said in a statement that he entered active duty on Nov. 19, 2019.

In a statement late Tuesday, Aden said he “immediately” placed the deputy on administrative leave and asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an investigation, as required by policy. He said the Florida State Attorney’s Office would also conduct an independent review.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed it was investigating the shooting and declined to comment further.

Crump compared Fortson’s killing to that of Botham Jean, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed in 2018 by a white, off-duty Dallas police officer who mistook his apartment for her own. Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder the following year and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Crump represented Jean’s family, as well as the families of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, who were also killed by police.

CORRECTION (May 15, 2024, 3:50 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of Roger Forston’s mother. She is Chantemekki Fortson, not Chantimekki.