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Florida sheriff's deputy seen fatally shooting U.S. airman in newly released body camera video

Family of airman killed by deputy demands answers
Family of airman fatally shot by Florida deputy demands answers 02:15

A Florida sheriff's office released body camera video Thursday showing a sheriff's deputy shoot and kill a U.S. airman at his apartment last week while the deputy was responding to a disturbance call.

The video shows a deputy from the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office in the Florida panhandle knock on the door of Senior Airman Roger Fortson's apartment late Friday afternoon and announce he was with the sheriff's office. When the door opens, the deputy yells for Fortson, 23, to step back.

Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Fortson's family, has said that Fortson got his legally owned gun after hearing knocking on his door and not hearing who was there. In a bodycam video released Thursday, the deputy initially knocks without announcing himself. About 30 seconds later, he knocks again, saying he's with the sheriff's office and to open the door. He knocks and announces himself approximately 10 seconds later. Within seconds of Fortson opening the door, the deputy shoots Fortson who is seen holding what appears to be a handgun at his side.

Fortson, who is blurred in the video, immediately falls to the ground. He's seen moving on the floor as the deputy tells him to drop his gun.

"It's over there," Fortson is heard on the video telling the deputy. "I don't have it."

The deputy tells Fortson to not move and then calls on his radio for emergency medical services before the video ends.

During a news conference, Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden told reporters, "It pains me to show the video, but I know that you all need to see it."

Fortson's family said in a statement that it was troubling that the deputy fired multiple times so quickly.

"The video has provided some answers, but it's also raised even more troubling questions," the family said. "As the officer didn't tell Roger to drop the weapon before shooting, was the officer trained to give verbal warnings? Did the officer try to initiate life-saving measures? Was the officer trained to deal with law-abiding citizens who are registered gun owners?"

During the incident, Fortson was on a FaceTime call with his girlfriend. Crump's firm released a video of the call that appears to start after the shooting, showing the ceiling of Fortson's apartment.

"I can't breathe," Fortson says in the video while groaning.

No law enforcement officers are seen in the video, but some voices in the background of the video can be heard.

"Do not move," a voice shouts to Fortson. "Stop moving. Stop moving."

Fortson was shot six times, Crump's law firm said. As someone in the background counted how many gunshot wounds Fortson had, a voice says, "Yeah, he's shot up."

Aden didn't take any questions during the afternoon news conference. The deputy, who hasn't been identified, has been placed on administrative leave, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state attorney's office are investigating the shooting.

"These investigations take time, but I want to assure you that we are not hiding, covering up or taking action that would result in a rush to judgment of Mr. Fortson or our deputy," Aden said.

Chantemekki Fortson, mother of Roger Fortson, a U.S. Air Force senior airman, holds a photo of her son during a news conference regarding his death, along with family and attorney Ben Crump, May 9, 2024, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Chantemekki Fortson, mother of Roger Fortson, a U.S. Air Force senior airman, holds a photo of her son during a news conference regarding his death, along with family and attorney Ben Crump, May 9, 2024, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Earlier Thursday, Crump said during a news conference Fortson was on FaceTime with his girlfriend when he heard knocking on his door, saw no one through the peephole and got his gun.

Crump initially said the deputy entered Fortson's apartment, saw him with his gun and shot him. According to the family's statement after the bodycam video was released, the girlfriend thought the door was forced open by the deputy. The footage released during Aden's news conference showed the deputy firing several shots in an exterior hallway outside the door to Fortson's apartment.

"We remain adamant that the police had the wrong apartment as Roger was on the phone with his girlfriend for a substantial amount of time leading up to the shooting, and no one else was in the apartment," the family said.

Fortson's mother Chantemekki Fortson told reporters her son's girlfriend was devastated from the shooting.

"She literally watched them walk over him as he was dying, taking his last breath," Fortson said.

Crump didn't identify the girlfriend but said she has an attorney.

"She was afraid that she just heard them and watch them kill her boyfriend," Crump told reporters.

The sheriff's office said in a statement Saturday the deputy was responding to a disturbance call, "made contact with an armed individual at an apartment" and acted in self-defense. In an updated statement Tuesday, Sheriff Eric Aden said the deputy "encountered an armed man" and shot him.

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

During his news conference, Aden said he met with Fortson's family and extended them his condolences.

"This result is one we never hope to encounter," the sheriff said.

Crump said the family was going to view the bodycam footage Thursday afternoon. The family called for the footage to be released to the public and for the sheriff's office to correct what they've said about the shooting.

"Do the right thing and correct this narrative," Crump said. "Correct this narrative and don't put a stain on the name of this young man ... Do not try to put stain on his name, on his life, on his legacy."

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