Body camera footage released by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Thursday shows a deputy knocked several times on an apartment door and announced himself as law enforcement before fatally shooting a Black airman seconds after he opened the door.

The footage shows Senior Airman Roger Fortson, who appears to be holding a firearm at his side pointed toward the floor, open the door to unit 1401 as the deputy tells Fortson to “step back.”

Immediately, the deputy opens fire on Fortson, who appears to lift his other arm across his body as he twists away and falls to the floor, before yelling twice for Fortson to “drop the gun.”

“It’s over there,” Fortson responds from the floor.

“Drop the gun,” the deputy yells a third time.

“I don’t have it,” Fortson responds.

The four-and-a-half-minute video, which stops less than 20 seconds after the deputy tells Fortson not to move and calls for medical assistance, does not show the deputy bust through the door, a claim made by Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney hired by Fortson’s family as they seek answers into why Fortson, 23, was fatally shot six times by the deputy at his apartment complex May 3.

Crump said Wednesday that deputies burst into the wrong apartment while Fortson, an AC-130J gunner assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, talked over FaceTime with his girlfriend, who he said witnessed the incident.

In a press conference Thursday, Crump and Fortson’s mother, Chantemekki Fortson, sought to clear his name, saying he was not the reason deputies were called for an alleged disturbance that drew the deputy to the complex. Crump said he was protecting his home with his legally-owned gun. Fortson, who was from Atlanta, respected authorities and sought to provide for his family, including buying his mother a Lexus, Fortson’s mother and Crump said. His mother said he had been injured in a deployment to Kuwait.

“They shot a good guy. They killed a good guy,” Crump said. “They took from this Air Force a good guy.”

The sheriff’s office said May 3 they were called for a disturbance at 319 Racetrack Road NW in Fort Walton Beach and that the deputy, who is not identified in the video, reacted in self-defense after finding Fortson with a gun and after identifying himself as law enforcement.

Okaloosa Sheriff Eric Aden met with Fortson’s family Thursday, showing them the video before sharing it during a brief press conference, after which he declined to take questions.

“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,” Aden said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting an investigation into the incident, which is being treated as a criminal investigation, Aden said.

The state agency declined to answer questions Thursday.

Aden maintained that the deputy, who is on administrative leave during that investigation, did not have the wrong apartment.

However, in a statement released by Crump’s office Thursday evening, Fortson’s family said they remain “adamant” that the deputy arrived at the wrong door and that the airman had been alone inside the apartment, where he’d been talking with his girlfriend on FaceTime. And while Fortson’s girlfriend initially thought the door was forced open, she stands by her account, the family said.

Before the deputy arrived at Fortson’s door, he met an unidentified woman in the apartment complex’s parking lot to direct him to Fortson’s fourth-floor apartment.

“So are they fighting or something?,” he asked.

The woman told him a girl, who appears to have alerted the complex about the disturbance, said it “happens frequently” and “this time it sounded like it was getting out of hand.” Two weeks earlier, the woman, whose identity is blurred, told the deputy as she walked him toward an elevator, that she’d walked by the apartment when she heard yelling followed by what sounded like a slap “but [she] wasn’t sure where it came from.”

“I didn’t want to call the police, and like, you know,” the woman told the deputy.

“What room is it?,” he asked.

“1401,” she said.

“1401, OK,” the deputy responded, asking the woman to wait and direct another responding deputy before boarding the elevator.

Additional video released

While the bodycam footage provided the Fortson family with “some answers,” they said in Thursday’s statement, it “raised even more troubling questions,” including why the deputy waited to tell Fortson to drop his gun until after he’d shot him, and whether the deputy was 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?” the family asked.

Along with the statement, the family released video from Fortson’s FaceTime call with his girlfriend. The four-minute video begins after Fortson was shot and depicts the chaos of the moment, though no one appears on camera.

As Fortson moans, saying he can’t breathe, the deputy yells at him: “Do not move. Stop moving. Stop moving.” With sirens in the background, nearly 20 seconds pass before the deputy says to him: “Hang on, man. We’ve got EMS coming for you. Don’t move.”

Individuals who appear to be first responders, who sound as if they search the apartment for others, are then heard arriving on the video. Two minutes later, someone says Fortson was shot three times in the arm and three times in the chest.

Crump did not respond to an interview request from Air Force Times.

1st Special Operations Wing Commander Col. Patrick Dierig posted on Facebook Thursday evening that the Air Force is supporting Fortson’s family and providing resources to his squadron and others. Fortson received the Air Medal with a ‘C’ device, denoting service or achievement performed under combat, for his 2023 deployment, the service said. He arrived at the base in 2020, where he’d also been assigned to the the 73d Special Operations Squadron.

A service in Fortson’s honor will be planned at a later date, Dierig added.

“Fortson was a proven combat veteran and an incredible teammate,” Dierig said. “His loss is felt throughout the 4th Special Operations Squadron, the 73d Special Operations Squadron, and the entirety of our wing. We will honor his service at a date to be determined by his family and his squadron.”

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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