Black Airman’s Family Slam Cops Who Shot Him in His Own Home

Courtesy of Fortson family
Courtesy of Fortson family

The family of the Black airman slain by Florida police in his own home last week held an emotional press conference Thursday morning, describing their loved one as a true patriot and someone who exemplified the American dream.

Roger Fortson, a 23-year-old senior airman with the United States Air Force, was a “good person” who “respected authority” and followed the rules, they said.

“Roger wanted to show us how to love unconditionally,” said Fortson’s mother Meka Fortson, while holding back tears and gripping a framed photo of her son in his Air Force blues. “Roger wanted to show… that it was more to life than… making a fool of himself.”

An unnamed deputy with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department fatally shot Fortson on May 3, according to a press release issued Wednesday from the Ben Crump Law firm.

Fortson was on a video call with his girlfriend when he heard a knock at the front door to his apartment. When he asked who was there, there was no verbal response but a more “aggressive knock” on the door came a few minutes later.

Fortson didn’t see anyone when he checked through the peephole and grabbed his legally-registered firearm as a precaution. A few minutes later, police barged through the door, saw Fortson’s gun, and allegedly shot him six times while his girlfriend remained on the video call.

“I can’t breathe,” Fortson said after being shot, the press release stated.

Fortson was eventually taken to a hospital, where he died.

His mom Meka Fortson said she drove to Florida from Atlanta after she got a call from Fortson’s girlfriend that he had been shot. She recalled that authorities were not initially very communicative with her about what happened or the status of her son’s health.

“So, I walk through the [hospital] door. … When I see three men in blue Air Force uniforms, that’s when I knew my child was dead before any word was uttered,” Meka Fortson said. “The only thing those three men could tell me was how exceptional my child was.”

Fortson enlisted with the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school in Atlanta. He was his mother’s third son out of five children, and did everything for the sake of his family, Crump said.

“[Fortson] was trying to help his family have a better life. His dream—like so many young people who don’t come with a silver spoon—was to give his mother a home. He was trying to make sure his [siblings] knew that their big brother was going to make sure that they had a chance at the American dream, and that’s why he was sacrificing so much for them,” Crump added.

Fortson was injured during a tour in Kuwait and had plans of becoming a pilot.

“Roger Fortson was the best America had to offer,” Crump said. “He had always wanted to serve in the United States Air Force, and he was living his dream. By doing so, he was going to make it better for his mother and his siblings and his family so they could have a better chance at their American dream.”

Roger Fortson with his little sister

Roger Fortson with his little sister.

Courtesy of Fortson family

In a previous press release, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said the department was responding to a “call of disturbance” when officers encountered Fortson.

However, according to Fortson’s girlfriend, he was alone in his apartment, there was no disturbance, and police had entered the wrong apartment.

During Thursday’s presser, attorney Ben Crump said the police had an idea that they may not have had the right location because they knocked on a series of doors before settling on Fortson’s home.

“They have a duty to make sure they were at the right apartment before they busted in the door,” Crump said. “[Fortson] was the good guy, and he did not deserve to be killed like this and then have these false narratives placed on his life, on his legacy. No, that’s not American. That is un-American.”

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office—just outside of Pensacola—previously said it was “saddened about the fatal officer involved shooting.”

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden said the deputy involved in the shooting was “immediately placed… on administrative leave” and asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.

“At this time, we humbly ask for our community’s patience as we work to understand the facts that resulted in this tragic event,” Aden said in the department’s press release.

At a separate press conference later Thursday, Aden said it was incorrect that the deputy from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office went to the wrong address and “burst” through Fortson’s front door.

“While this is a criminal investigation, no determination has been made as to whether the deputies actions are justified or not. Here in Okaloosa County, we pride ourselves in our commitment to transparency and accountability. These investigations take time. But I want to assure you that we’re not hiding, covering up or taking action that would result in a rush to judgment of Mr. Fortson or our deputy.”

In bodycam footage of the incident presented at the presser, the deputy who responded to the call speaks with a woman in the apartment complex about a possible domestic dispute at 4:30 p.m. The woman gives the apartment number she suspected the noise may have come from, and the officer waits outside of the door to see if he hears anything. He knocks and waits a few seconds around the corner, somewhat out of view of the front door, before going back to knock and announce that he was with the sheriff’s office. The front door opens, the deputy tells Fortson to step back, but it’s not visible if the airman is holding a gun or aiming it at the deputy. The deputy fires six shots.

“Drop the gun!” the deputy directs.

“It’s over there,” Fortson says, lying on the ground.

“Drop the gun!” the officer yells again.

“I don’t have it!” Fortson responds.

“Do not move!” the officer shouts, but it’s clear that Fortson is incapable of doing so.

In February, an independent probe found that an officer from the same police department shot and handcuffed an unarmed man, the Washington Post reported. According to the investigation, the officer mistook a fallen acorn for a gunshot. The officer later resigned.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement told The Daily Beast in a statement Thursday that it was investigating the May 3 shooting.

“The [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] use-of-force cases are independent, fact-finding investigations. The results are referred to the State Attorney’s office to determine further action,” the department said, adding that it could not provide any more information during the active investigation.

Crump said any law-abiding citizen “should be troubled” by Fortson’s death and police officers’ dismissal of him legally owning a gun in his own home.

“This truly is about the Constitution. … When you think about the people who we want to have guns in America, [Fortson] is Exhibit A. I mean he was trained to use a firearm. He’s a military trained officer. He’s very responsible. He respects authority. He’s very diplomatic,” Crump said. “He was protecting us so that we could have all those constitutional rights. … [Fortson] was a patriot for all of us.”

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