Trending Topics

‘Drop the Gun’: Video Shows Florida Deputy Stand Out of View of Peephole After Knocking, Opening Fire on Airman Who Came to Door with His Firearm Pointing Downward

Florida authorities released body cam footage showing the tragic moment when a white sheriff’s deputy fatally shot a Black U.S. senior airman during a disturbance call at a Fort Walton Beach apartment complex, which attorney Ben Crump continues to claim was carried out at the wrong unit.

Atlanta Black Star obtained official police video of the May 3 shooting that killed 23-year-old Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson, after the deputy was met in the parking lot by a witness who apparently called police and led the officer to apartment 1401, which is shown as the number outside Fortson’s unit.

Inside, Fortson was chatting with his girlfriend on FaceTime before he was shot almost as soon as he opened his front door.

Moments before the gunfire, the Okaloosa County Sheriff deputy was told by a woman in the parking lot that it “sounded like something was getting out of hand” inside 1401. 

She then told the officer that two weeks earlier she or a neighbor was passing by the same unit when she heard someone yelling “shut the f— up,” and other threatening expletives, as well as the sound of someone being slapped, however, she admitted to the officer that she wasn’t exactly sure where the shouting was coming from at the time. 

On the day in question, however, she said she had no doubts that the disturbance was coming from inside Fortson’s apartment.

At that point, she tells the deputy that the unit is located on the fourth floor, down the hall from the elevator.

Once upstairs, the deputy is shown approaching Fortson’s door and listening quietly for a few seconds before banging on the door. 

At this time, he did not announce himself as a cop, but instead positioned himself to the side of the door where he couldn’t be seen through the peephole.

Seconds later, Fortson can be heard on the footage, possibly mentioning the “police” but no yelling could be heard and the airman did not open the door. 

At this point the deputy knocks again and for the first time announces himself as a sheriff’s deputy. But there was still no response from inside.

The deputy then knocked a third time, while stating more forcefully, “Sheriff’s office, open the door!”

The deputy continued to stand out of view of the peephole until Fortson slowly opened the door while simply holding the gun in his right hand, with it pointed at the floor, the video shows.

Suddenly, the deputy can be heard saying, “Step back,” before quickly drawing up his weapon and firing six shots rapidly into Fortson’s chest.

As part of the investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it would focus on whether the reported disturbance that led to the shooting actually occurred at Fortson’s residence.

FDLE officials said the probe will seek to determine whether the use of force was justified, and scrutinize the 911 caller and the person’s reasons for making the emergency call in the first place.

The footage shows Fortson never raised his weapon toward the officer.

Instead, Fortson held up his empty hand, presumably to protect himself as the officer aimed his gun.

The six slugs dropped Fortson to the floor while the officer continued to yell at him, saying, “Drop the gun!”

Video shows the dying man telling the officer the location of his gun, saying: “It’s over there, I don’t have it.”

“Suspect down,” the deputy then told dispatch, later saying he needed an ambulance.

Later, as other deputies arrived, the officer at the scene told them, “We’re good, we’re good.”

“He had a gun as soon as he opened that door,” the deputy said, setting the narrative that emerged initially from sheriff’s officials.

On the video, law enforcement could be heard demanding anyone else in the apartment to come out with their hands up, but no one responded. At least one deputy could be heard saying “clear.”

Crump — the prominent civil rights attorney — issued a statement to Law&Crime, calling Fortson’s killing an “execution” that also violated his civil rights, saying there’s “no question that the officer acted with impulse and a lack of proper training when he shot and killed Roger within seconds of the door opening.”

Fortson had been stationed at the Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, and he lived off-base at the apartment where six bullets from an Okaloosa County deputy’s gun ended his life.

Days after the shooting, Crump held a news conference with Fortson’s family at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fort Walton Beach to address the shooting while criticizing police officials for portraying the shooting as an act of self-defense.

“We have to clear this narrative,” Crump said, while also accusing the sheriff’s department of not being fully transparent about what happened.

Previously, Crump said the sheriff’s office described Fortson as an “armed man” but never mentioned that Fortson had his gun pointed down at the floor when he was shot.

Days after the shooting, Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden posted a statement to social media, expressing sadness over what happened, but at that time it was early in the investigation, and the department had not responded directly to media outlets seeking the official account of what took place.

“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 a Facebook post.

At the same time, the sheriff’s office stated that the responding deputy had reacted in “self-defense” after encountering an armed Black man.

However, authorities did not provide further details about the nature of the disturbance, nor did they reveal the identity of the person who called police to the scene.

The sheriff’s office also declined to provide the original 911 call and the police report that was filed in the incident, citing the “ongoing active investigation.”

Fortson’s relatives said the police were already trying to claim self-defense because Fortson was armed, giving them the supposed justification to open fire.

“They are trying to jump out in front of this and claim self defense,” Drew Latner of Decatur, Georgia, wrote on Facebook this week, telling his followers to amplify the call for justice in Fortson’s death. “My cousin didn’t pose a threat,” he said.

Crump also accused the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s office of “demonizing” Fortson in the public eye.

“We urge authorities to immediately stop demonizing Roger in their statements to the media. It’s imperative to correct the record and acknowledge the wrongful entry into Roger’s home,” he said.

The sheriff’s office still has not released the identity of the responding deputy. 

There was also trouble with Crump’s version of what happened as the body cam video seemed to contradict what he said about the shooting previously, although Crump maintained that the deputy went to the wrong apartment because there was no actual emergency at Fortson’s place.

But the body cam video now shows the deputy did go to the door that the witness pointed out.

Also, the video doesn’t show the deputy bursting through the door as previously described by Crump’s firm. Instead, Fortson opened the door and was shot almost right away.

On the day of the shooting, Crump stated that the officer arrived at the wrong apartment and killed Fortson without provocation.

At the time of the shooting, Fortson was on FaceTime with his girlfriend, who remained on the call after he was shot six times, and would later recount the horrifying scene she witnessed.

Crump also shared the recording of the FaceTime call on social media.

According to Crump, the woman said Fortson was sitting quietly in his apartment by himself and was not involved in any disturbances when he heard a knock at his front door. 

Not expecting anyone, he asked the whoever was outside to announce themselves but received no answer. 

Moments later, Fortson heard a louder knock at the door, but when he looked through the peephole he did not see anyone, according to Crump, citing the woman’s version of events.

Becoming concerned for his safety, Fortson went to retrieve his gun, which he legally owned and registered, Crump added.

As Fortson walked back through his living room toward the entry, Crump said the deputy burst inside the man’s house. 

As the officer encountered Fortson with a weapon in his hands, the officer unloaded six shots at him, Crump said, noting that Fortson never had the chance to defend himself.

Horrified, the woman remained on the FaceTime call as Fortson lay mortally wounded with six bullets in his chest.

The woman said Fortson kept repeating, “I can’t breathe,” as his life slipped away.

The deputy then radioed dispatch and reported “shots fired, suspect down,” before he requested emergency medical assistance.

Paramedics arrived and rushed Fortson to a nearby hospital, where he died from his wounds. 

“My baby was shot up,” Fortson’s mother, Meka, said during Thursday’s news conference in Fort Walton, where she drove from Atlanta to be with her son.

But before she made it, Fortson died at the hospital, denying her the chance to say one final goodbye.

“He was living his dream. He was going to make life better for his mother and family,” Meka Fortson said at the press conference. “Everybody has told us what a respectable young man he was.”

Crump consoled the grieving family in front of the microphones.

“Obviously you can see how devastated the family is and he was laying on the ground saying ‘I can’t breathe,'” Crump said. “They seemed to go through the apartment saying ‘county sheriff, reveal yourself’ while he was struggling to breathe.”

No other details about the shooting were released.

The deputy who opened fire was not identified and was immediately placed on administrative leave as the investigation got underway.

Fortson was home alone at the time and not fighting with anyone, leading the woman to also believe that deputies had responded to an emergency call at the wrong apartment.

“The circumstances surrounding Roger’s death raise serious questions that demand immediate answers from authorities, especially considering the alarming witness statement that the police entered the wrong apartment,” Crump said, according to The Associated Press. “We are calling for transparency in the investigation into Roger’s death and the immediate release of body cam video to the family. His family and the public deserve to know what occurred in the moments leading up to this tragedy.”

Crump, based in Tallahassee, Florida, has become recognized over the past decade or more as a juggernaut of the Black Lives Matter movement due to his firm’s handling of numerous high-profile police killings involving unarmed Black Americans, including Breonna Taylor, Tyre Nichols, and George Floyd.

“What I’m trying to do, as much as I can, even sometimes singlehandedly, is increase the value of Black life,” Crump told The Associated Press in 2021 after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted for murdering Floyd in 2020.

Crump is now representing Fortson’s family as part of his ongoing crusade to hold police accountable as innocent Black citizens continue to be targeted and killed.

Earlier this week, officials announced that the shooting would be investigated by the local State Attorney’s Office, as well as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, whose spokesperson put off making any comments until the investigation is completed.

According to a copy of his service record provided to Military.com, Fortson enlisted in the Air Force on November 19, 2019.

The young airman worked in the 4th Special Operations Squadron as a special missions aviator. As part of the AC-130J Ghostrider aircrew, his job was to load the gunship’s 30mm and 105mm cannons during combat missions.

Fortson’s death reflects a continuing pattern seen in countless other cases where innocent Black people have been killed by police in their homes in recent years, often by officers responding to the wrong address or using deadly force inappropriately.

In 2018, a white former Dallas police officer mistakenly entered Botham Jean’s apartment and fatally shot him, thinking he was inside her residence. The former officer, Amber Guyger, was convicted of murder and received a 10-year prison sentence.

In 2019, a white former officer in Fort Worth, Texas, shot and killed 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson as she investigated noises outside the home. 

The officer, Aaron Dean, responded to a nonemergency call about Jefferson’s open front door and fired through a rear window in 2019 as the woman was spending quality time with her young nephew.

Dean was convicted of manslaughter in 2022 and received a nearly 12-year prison sentence. Late last year, Dean asked a state judge to throw out his manslaughter conviction.

The case also echoes the botched sting in which Louisville Police officers opened fire and killed Breonna Taylor in her apartment more than three years ago in a similar no-knock drug raid.

At the time, Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in bed when they were awakened by banging at the door from what Walker said he believed then were intruders attempting to force their way inside, leading him to fire one shot that ignited a barrage of gunfire from police.

Charges against Walker were later dismissed after prosecutors determined he made a legal attempt to defend the home.

Back to top