Bodycam video released of airman shot by police, sheriff disputes claim deputy went to wrong unit

The victim was identified by his family as Roger Fortson, an ​active-duty senior airman, according to attorney Ben Crump.

ByChristina Maxouris, Shawn Nottingham, Melissa Alonso and Dakin Andone, CNN CNNWire logo
Friday, May 10, 2024
Bodycam released after Florida airman killed in alleged wrong apartment shooting
Okaloosa County sheriff showed the video during a Thursday news conference, shortly after an attorney for the 23-year-old airman's family called for its public release

OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. -- A Florida sheriff publicly released bodycam footage from a deputy who fatally shot a Black airman in his home last week - and disputed claims from the victim's family that the deputy had gone to the wrong apartment.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden showed the video during a Thursday news conference, shortly after an attorney for the 23-year-old airman's family called for its public release, saying the victim's girlfriend was FaceTiming with him and believes the deputy was at the wrong unit.

The victim was identified by his family as Roger Fortson, an active-duty senior airman, according to attorney Ben Crump, who held a news conference earlier Thursday. Crump and Fortson's mother described him as a patriot who respected authority and hoped to buy his mother and younger siblings a house.

The victim was identified by his family as Roger Fortson, an ​active-duty senior airman, according to attorney Ben Crump
The victim was identified by his family as Roger Fortson, an ​active-duty senior airman, according to attorney Ben Crump

The sheriff, who met with Fortson's family shortly before his news conference, said he asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Division to handle the criminal investigation, as is required. While that probe is ongoing, he said, "no determination has been made as to whether the deputy's actions were justified or not." The deputy has been placed on administrative leave.

"What we do know at this time is that the deputy did announce himself, not once but twice," Aden said. "Mr. Fortson's comments indicate that he did acknowledge it was law enforcement at the door and he arrived at the door with a firearm in his hand. The deputy knocked on the correct door, he did not cover the peephole or otherwise obscured its view in any way."

But Fortson's family reiterated their belief that authorities went to the wrong door.

"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," Fortson's family said in a statement following the release of the footage.

What the bodycam footage shows

Deputies responded last Friday to an apartment after receiving a call for "a disturbance in progress," Aden said in a previous statement.

"Hearing sounds of a disturbance, (a deputy) reacted in self-defense after he encountered a 23-year-old man armed with a gun and after the deputy had identified himself as law enforcement," the sheriff said.

"The deputy shot the man, who later succumbed to his injuries," said the sheriff. The deputy involved in the shooting has not been identified by officials.

The bodycam footage, dated May 3, begins at roughly 4:28 p.m. with a deputy arriving at what appears to be an apartment complex.

A woman at the complex is heard telling the deputy there was a disturbance in apartment 1401 and that it was "getting out of hand."

The same woman tells the deputy she previously walked by the apartment and heard yells and "a slap," but added she wasn't sure where it came from.

The deputy takes the elevator to the fourth floor and knocks on a door three times. The apartment number "1401" is visible in the footage. He announces himself twice, saying, "Sheriff's office, open the door." There is nothing heard on the footage from inside the apartment.

Within seconds of the apartment's door opening, the deputy says "Step back" and is then seen firing his weapon. Fortson is seen standing at the door with his hands down and what appears to be a lowered firearm in his right hand. He immediately falls to the floor as the deputy fires. At least five shots are heard.

While Fortson is on the floor, the deputy yells "Drop the gun" twice. Fortson is heard saying, "It's over there," and then, "I don't have it."

The deputy continues to point his weapon at Fortson and tells him not to move, while Fortson remains on the floor. The deputy continues pointing his weapon at Fortson while calling for EMS.

Deputies communicated with dispatch that Fortson had been shot six times with multiple gunshot wounds to the chest with one exit wound, according to police dispatch calls, obtained by CNN affiliate WEAR.

Fortson's family said after the video's release, "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."

"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?" their statement added.

Footage released from FaceTime call during shooting

Later Thursday, Crump also released nearly four minutes of the FaceTime call he says Fortson was on with his girlfriend when he was shot.

The video shows what appears to be the ceiling of an apartment as a man - presumably Fortson - can be heard groaning and saying, "I can't breathe." Another man - presumably the deputy - tells him: "Do not move. Stop movin'."

The deputy can then be heard saying, "Hang on man, we've got an ambulance comin' for you. Don't move."

Presumably speaking to others, the deputy then says, "We're good. He had a gun since he opened the door." The deputy is heard shouting but much of it is inaudible.

Another person can later be heard detailing Fortson's wounds saying, "We've got three gunshot wounds, one exit," before another voice says, "Yeah, he's shot up."

Eventually, someone is heard saying Fortson has six gunshot wounds. Fortson was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Fortson was playing video games, family attorney says

In their earlier news conference Thursday, Crump and Fortson's mother described him as a responsible young man and a patriot who had long dreamed of serving in the US Air Force.

"To the sheriff's department that took my gift ... I need you guys to tell the truth about my son. I need you to get his reputation right," Fortson's mother said.

"I know my son did not do anything to you guys. If he scared you, or if you guys wasn't trained properly, I apologize," she said. "But please clean my baby's reputation."

Fortson entered active duty in November 2019 and was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, according to a statement from the Air Force, which noted the shooting occurred at the airman's off-base residence.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is "closely" following the reports of the shooting, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Thursday.

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Crump said the 23-year-old had been home for about 30 minutes and playing video games prior to the shooting.

Fortson heard two separate knocks at the door and when no one could be seen through the peephole, he retrieved his gun, Crump said, citing Fortson's girlfriend. Crump said Fortson's gun was legally owned.

The girlfriend said law enforcement responded to the wrong apartment, and there was no disturbance there at the time, Crump said. Fortson was alone at the time, Crump said, citing Fortson's girlfriend.

"(Fortson) was on the phone with his girlfriend in the apartment by himself with his dog," Crump told CNN's Jake Tapper Thursday evening. "They had the wrong apartment."

Shooting calls to mind past incidents

While details about the shooting remain murky, the incident echoes other shootings in recent years, in which a Black man or woman was killed by law enforcement in their home.

In 2019, a former Dallas police officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison after fatally shooting Botham Jean in his apartment the year prior. The officer - off duty but still in uniform - lived on the floor below Jean's and said she approached what she believed to be her own apartment when she saw Jean inside.

Atatiana Jefferson was killed that same year when a Fort Worth officer, responding to what police believed to be a burglary, shot her through her bedroom window.

The former Fort Worth officer was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison in 2022.

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