Florida sheriff releases bodycam of fatal police shooting of Black US airman at home

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Police have released bodycam footage of the fatal shooting of an Air Force airman at his Florida home after his family alleged that an officer responded to the wrong address.

US Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson, 23, was shot on 3 May 2024 by a deputy from the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

During a news conference on Thursday, Fortson’s family claimed that the deputy went to the wrong apartment and did not announce himself to the service member when he banged on the man’s door at the Elan Apartments by ARIUM.

On Thursday afternoon, the sheriff’s office released four minutes of bodycam footage worn by the officer.

In the clip, the officer, who has not been identified by the department, is seen banging on the man’s home three times and shouting “Sheriff’s office open the door” twice.

Mr Fortson comes to the door and opens it. The officer then asks the man to step back and after seeing a firearm, immediately shoots him six times. It’s unclear in the bodycam footage if Fortson indeed had a gun in his hand. After he was shot, the officer yelled at him to “drop the gun”. Fortson then replied with “It’s over there” and said, “I don’t have it”.

The deputy then radios to alert nearby police officers that shots have been fired at the residence and to request that emergency medical services respond to the scene. The Air Force member was taken to a nearby hospital where he died from his injuries.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office released bodycam footage in the shooting of Air Force service member Roger Fortson on Thursday (Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department )

Speaking at a news conference, Sheriff Eric Aden maintained that the deputy did knock on the correct door and that any statements made by the family and Ben Crump, the famed civil rights attorney retained to represent them, are inaccurate.

The deputy has been placed on paid administrative leave until a formal investigation into the matter and an administrative review are complete, per standard protocol.

Mr Crump told reporters at a separate news conference on Thursday that Fortson heard a knock at the door and replied “Who is it?” but did not get a response. He then said the service member heard a second knock and tried to look through the peephole to see who it was but it appeared as though someone had tried to cover it up.

The man then went to retrieve a firearm, which he legally had in his possession, the attorney said. When he returned, the deputy had busted through the door and was in the apartment, Crump said.

That narrative differs from what’s shown in the bodycam footage.

Fortson’s girlfriend was on the phone with him at the time of the shooting, the attorney continued. Once he was shot, she said she could see him on the ground saying “I can’t breathe”.

The man’s family has called for a formal investigation into the matter. Sheriff Aden said that he has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct the investigation, a step that is typical in such shootings. The state attorney’s office will conduct an independent review.

Proving wrongdoing in the case could be difficult as most police policies allow officers to use force if they’re presented with a firearm.

Chantimekki Fortson, the airman’s mother, appeared at the Thursday news conference clutching onto a framed Air Force portrait of her son and sobbing onto a friend’s shoulder.

Chantimekki Fortson, mother of Roger Fortson, a US Air Force airman, holds a photo of her son during a news conference regarding his death, along with family and Ben Crump (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

She described the service member as intelligent and compassionate.

“Where we come from, you don’t end up where Roger ended up,” she said, speaking of her son’s military accomplishments. 

An Air Force spokesperson said Fortson had entered the service in November 2019. He was stationed in a special operations squadron based on Hurlburt Field, an air base in Okaloosa County.

His decorations included an Air Medal with C Device, meaning he’d served in combat, and an Air Force Achievement Medal.

Ms Fortson demanded that the sheriff’s department “tell the truth about her son” and clear his reputation, which she said has been tarnished by the sheriff’s department’s revelations.

“I know my son did not do anything to you guys,” she said.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has faced criticism in the past.

Last year, a sheriff’s deputy shot at an unarmed and handcuffed man after mistaking the sound of an acorn hitting his cruiser for a gunshot. The office determined that the deputy had used excessive force but he was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

The deputy resigned while he was under investigation.

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