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Senior Airman Roger Fortson of the U.S. Air Force

Senior Airman Roger Fortson. | Source: U.S. Air Force

The Florida police officer who shot and killed a young Black U.S. Air Force officer went to the wrong apartment when responding to a reported disturbance last week, the lawyer representing the Airman’s family said on Wednesday.

What happened to Roger Fortson?

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump claims a witness was conducting a Facetime video call with Senior Airman Roger Fortson when the unidentified deputy with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office knocked on the 23-year-old’s apartment door on Friday.

MORE: Florida Cop Who Killed Young Black Air Force Officer Is From Same Police Department In ‘Acorn’ Shooting

Crump said the witness claims that when no one answered Fortson’s question of who was knocking, a few minutes later the knocking got “very aggressive.” Again, no one answered when asked “who is it?” and Fortson, an active member of the U.S. military, armed himself with his legally owned gun.

That’s when the police kicked in Fortson’s door, saw he had a gun and shot him six times, the witness claims.

The witness, only identified as a female, told Crump that she saw and heard Fortson on the ground claiming, “I can’t breathe.”

Fortson was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The witness claims that the officers went to the wrong apartment because there was no disturbance happening while she and Fortson were on the Facetime call.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has been scarce with details of the shooting and would only offer a narrative that the deputy who fired the  fatal shots “reacted in self-defense after he encountered a 23-year-old man armed with a gun.”

Citing the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the Associated Press reported that the deputy responded to a vague report of “a disturbance in progress,” but it was not immediately clear what that referred to.

The deputy allegedly fired his gun only after he “identified himself as law enforcement,” the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office was careful to say, claiming the reaction was to “Hearing sounds of a disturbance.”

Crump, who has been retained by Fortson’s family, said in a statement that 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. The narrative released by law enforcement, which falsely suggests that Roger posed a threat, is deeply troubling and inconsistent with the details provided by that witness: Roger was home alone, causing no disturbance, when his life was tragically cut short by law enforcement.”

Crump called for an immediate investigation into the shooting and demanded any bodycam footage recorded during the incident be made available to Fortson’s family.

“We urge authorities to immediately stop demonizing Roger in their statements to the media,” Crump added. “It’s imperative to correct the record and acknowledge the wrongful entry into Roger’s home. What we know for sure is that Roger was a dedicated U.S. Airman serving the country and a cherished member of his community. Any attempts to tarnish his character only compound the pain felt by his loved ones.”

The deputy who shot and killed Fortson was not identified and placed on administrative leave, according to reports.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have a great track record

Last week was far from the first time that the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has been involved in a questionable shooting in recent months.

There could also be additional scrutiny of this shooting because the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is the same police department that employed a cop who in November infamously shot at an unarmed and handcuffed Black man after mistaking the sound of a falling acorn for a gunshot.

In that instance, now-former deputy Jesse Hernandez is shown on video shooting at unarmed suspect Marquis Jackson – who was not injured – after an acorn fell onto the roof of the patrol car.

That prompted Hernandez to yell “shots fired!” before he let off some rounds from his own service weapon.

Hernandez was allowed to resign gracefully in December while he was under investigation.

In what could be a sign of things to come from the police shooting and killing Fortson, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office ultimately described Hernandez’s actions on that fateful day as “reasonable”and cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The police murder of Botham Jean

Fortson’s shooting was reminiscent of the 2018 police murder of Botham Jean when off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger mistook his apartment for her own, profiled the Black man in his own home for a burglar of hers and shiot him to death within seconds. Jean, 27, had been eating Ice cream on his sofa when Guyger broke into his apartment and shot him to death.

In that instance, the Dallas Police Department was accused of trying to criminalize Jean in death by irrelevantly claiming “a small amount of marijuana” wa found in the apartment.


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