Lawyer for family of slain US Air Force airman says video and calls show deputy went to wrong home

STONECREST, Ga. — (AP) — A lawyer for the family of Roger Fortson said Thursday that police radio traffic and the body camera footage of the Florida sheriff’s deputy who killed the Black U.S. Air Force airman reinforce their assertion that the deputy was directed to the wrong apartment while responding to a domestic disturbance call that day.

In police radio traffic that lawyer Ben Crump played at a news conference surrounded by Fortson's family, a dispatcher said all they knew about the disturbance was “fourth-party information.”

“Uh, don’t have any further other than a male and female,” the dispatcher told officers. “It’s all fourth-party information from the front desk at the leasing office.”

Crump also highlighted two portions of the bodycam video in which the deputy asked the woman leading him around the complex, “Which door?” The woman responded, “Um… I’m not sure.” Seconds later, the woman told the officer that she heard a disturbance two weeks ago, but “I wasn’t sure where it came from.”

Fortson, 23, was shot May 3 by an Okaloosa County sheriff's deputy in the doorway of his apartment. Sheriff's officials say the deputy acted in self-defense while responding to a call of a disturbance in progress at the apartment complex.

Crump and Fortson’s family contend that the deputy went to the wrong apartment and the shooting was unjustified. At a May 9 news conference, Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden disputed allegations that the deputy went to the wrong unit, saying he’s aware of comments that “falsely state our deputy entered the wrong apartment.”

Nearly two weeks after the shooting, the sheriff has yet to release an incident report, any 911 records or the officer’s identity, despite requests for the information under Florida’s open records act. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating and the deputy involved has been placed on administrative leave.

At the news conference, Fortson's mother, Meka Fortson, said she doesn't remember her son even killing a spider, and that he didn't deserve to be killed.

“I’ll walk through the fires” to get justice, she said.

Her message to the Sheriff Aden: “You’re going to give me justice whether you want to, Sheriff Aden, or not,” she said.

A shrine of sorts has sprung up outside Fortson's apartment, where people have left combat boots, bouquets of flowers and an American flag, among other things.

The news conference was held at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the Atlanta suburb of Stonecrest. It would be followed by a wake in nearby Decatur. Fortson’s funeral will be held at New Birth on Friday.

Bodycam video of the confrontation shows the deputy arriving at a Fort Walton Beach apartment building and speaking to a woman outside who described hearing an argument. The deputy then went up an elevator and walked down an outdoor hallway.

The video shows the deputy banging on the door and stepping aside, seemingly out of view of the door. Twice he shouted: “Sheriff’s office! Open the door!”

Fortson, who legally owned a firearm, opened the door and could be seen holding a handgun pointed toward the floor. The deputy shouted, “Step back!” and then shot Fortson six times. Only afterward did he shout, “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!”

The deputy then called paramedics on his radio. The case is among many around the country in which Black people have been shot in their homes by law enforcement personnel.

Crump said earlier that Fortson was talking to his girlfriend on FaceTime and that he grabbed his gun because he heard someone outside his apartment. He said the deputy burst into the apartment, citing the account of the girlfriend, whose name hasn't been released.

In a clip from the FaceTime video captured by Fortson’s cellphone, the airman can be heard groaning and saying, “I can’t breathe.” A deputy can be heard yelling back at him, “Stop moving!” The phone is pointed at the ceiling and does not show what is going on in the apartment.

Fortson, a senior airman, was stationed at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He was a gunner aboard the AC-130J and earned an Air Medal with combat device, which is typically awarded after 20 flights in a combat zone or for conspicuous valor or achievement on a single mission.

Fortson was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron as a special missions aviator, where one of his roles was to load the gunship’s 30mm and 105mm cannons.

His family has said he doted on his 10-year-old sister and was determined to provide a better life for her and his mother, hoping eventually to buy her a house.


Anderson reported from St. Petersburg, Florida.


This story was updated to correct that the news conference was Thursday, not Friday.

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