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Florida sheriff deputies burst into wrong apartment and fatally shot U.S. airman, attorney says

Cops kill airman in apartment mixup: Lawyer
Florida police storm wrong apartment, kill U.S. airman, attorney says 00:41

Deputies responding to a disturbance call at a Florida apartment complex burst into the wrong unit and fatally shot a Black U.S. Air Force airman who was home alone when they saw he was armed with a gun, an attorney for the man's family said Wednesday.

Senior Airman Roger Fortson, 23, who was based at the Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, was at his home at Chez Elan Apartments, around five miles from the air base, when he was killed. 

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said in a statement that Fortson was on a Facetime call with a woman at the time of the encounter.

According to Crump, the woman, whom Crump didn't identify, said Fortson was alone in his apartment when he heard a knock at the door. He asked who was there but didn't get a response. A few minutes later, there was a very aggressive knock on the door, Crump said in a statement, but Fortson didn't see anyone when he looked out the peephole.

The woman said Fortson was concerned and went to retrieve his gun, which Crump said was legally owned.

As Fortson walked back through his living room, deputies burst through the door, saw that Fortson was armed and shot him six times, according to Crump's statement. Fortson was on the ground, saying, "I can't breathe," after he was shot, Crump said.

Fortson died at a hospital, officials said. The deputy involved in the shooting was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

The woman said Fortson wasn't causing a disturbance during their Facetime call and believes that the deputies must have had the wrong apartment, Crump's statement said.

Police Shooting Airman
This photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, shows Senior Airman Roger Fortson in a Dec. 24, 2019, photo.  / AP

"The circumstances surrounding Roger's death raise serious questions that demand immediate answers from authorities, especially considering the alarming witness statement that the police entered the wrong apartment," Crump said in the statement.

"We are calling for transparency in the investigation into Roger's death and the immediate release of body cam video to the family," Crump said. "His family and the public deserve to know what occurred in the moments leading up to this tragedy."

Crump is a nationally known attorney based in Tallahassee, Florida. He has been involved in multiple high-profile law enforcement shooting cases involving Black people, including those of Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Tyre Nichols and George Floyd.

Crump and Fortson's family plan to speak at a news conference in Fort Walton Beach on Thursday morning.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office said in a statement last week that a deputy responding to a call of a disturbance in progress at the apartment complex reacted in self-defense after encountering an armed man. The office did not offer details on what kind of disturbance deputies were responding to or who called them.

Officials said earlier this week that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the local State Attorney's Office will investigate the shooting.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it is highly unlikely the agency will have any further comment until the investigation is complete.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden said Wednesday in a statement, "All of us at the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office are saddened about the fatal officer involved shooting over the weekend." 

Aden said that he immediately placed the deputy on administrative leave and has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to conduct the investigation that is required in such incidents. The State Attorney's Office will also conduct an independent review.

"At this time, we humbly ask for our community's patience as we work to understand the facts that resulted in this tragic event," the sheriff said. 

Fortson was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron as a special missions aviator, where one of his roles as a member of the squadron's AC-130J Ghostrider aircrew was to load the gunship's 30mm and 105mm cannons during missions.

Fort Walton Beach is between Panama City Beach and Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle.

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