Attorneys, family of slain airman demand transparency from police officers

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump on Thursday said Florida police officers violated the constitutional rights of Roger Fortson, a 23-year-old active-duty senior airman who was fatally shot by a Florida sheriff’s deputy on May 3.

Speaking from Florida with Fortson’s family at his side, Crump urged the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office to “tell the truth” about what happened the night Fortson was killed.

“They thought he was a bad guy,” Crump said. “But he was a good guy. They killed a good guy. They took from his mama a good guy. They took from his brother and sister a good guy. They took from his father a good guy. They took a patriot from us.”

According to Crump, Fortson was alone in his apartment on the night of the shooting when he heard a knock at the door.

Fortson asked who was at the door but didn’t get a response. Minutes later, there was an “aggressive” knock on the door, but Fortson was unable to see anyone when he looked out the peephole.

Fortson then retrieved his legally owned gun. As he was walking back to the living room, police burst through the door.

Upon seeing the gun, police shot Fortson six times.

According to a witness, whom Crump said was on FaceTime with Fortson during the shooting, Fortson fell to the ground stating, “I can’t breathe,” after he was shot. He was transported to a hospital, where he died.

The witness, according to Crump, said there was no disturbance in the apartment and that Fortson was alone when police burst in.

In a statement released last week, the sheriff’s office said that a deputy was responding to a call of a disturbance at Fortson’s apartment complex and reacted in self-defense after encountering an armed man.

But attorneys for Fortson’s family lambasted the police department for a “disingenuous” narrative that smears Fortson’s name by implying he had committed a crime.

“Tell the truth,” Crump said. “That’s not so hard to do.”

“The truth is this is about the Constitution, because in the state of Florida, I mean, we encourage gun ownership,” said Crump. “Roger had a right to the Second Amendment … and he also had a right to the Fourth Amendment, to be free of unlawful searches and seizures. Especially in his home.”

Attorney Brian Barr, who is representing Fortson’s family with Crump, added that the young airman could have been anyone.

“Every one of us sit in our houses every day, and every one of us, if somebody we don’t know comes into our house, are going to defend ourselves?” Barr said. “He lost his life because they knocked on the wrong door.”

Barr added that the attorneys and family just want transparency from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.

“We want to see the body cam video. We want to know what happened. We want the mistakes to be owned,” said Barr. “And we’re not going away until that transparency happens, and we’re not going to let them forget Roger. That’s not going to happen, not on our watch.”

Crump said the family would meet with Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden on Thursday. He expected body camera footage of the shooting to be shared with the family at the meeting.

Following the family’s press conference, they met with Aden.

In his own remarks on Thursday, the sheriff said that the previous press conference falsely stated the deputy entered the wrong apartment and implied “that he burst through the door into Mr. Fortson’s residence.”

Four and half minutes of body camera footage, released to the press after Aden met with Fortson’s family, shows a deputy responding to a call and asking a man on site if there was a fight. He then encounters a woman who tells him the fight is in unit 1401.

The woman tells the deputy that arguments at the unit appeared to happen “frequently” but this time “it seemed to be getting out of hand.”

“Two weeks ago, I was walking by their apartment and I was hearing someone yell, like, shut the f— up you stupid b-word and stuff like that,” the woman tells the deputy.

The deputy proceeds up to the fourth floor of the apartment complex. Upon reaching unit 1401, he knocks on the door but no one responds. He knocks twice more, and on the second knock calls out, “Sheriff’s office, open the door.”

He does this once more before the door is opened.

When the door is opened, the officer tells Fortson to step out. As Fortson begins to exit his apartment, the deputy opens fire, shooting off five shots immediately, and proceeds to yell, “Drop the gun!”

Fortson, on the ground, responds, “It’s over there!”

“Drop the gun!” the officer repeats.

“I don’t have it!” Fortson replies.

The officer responds, “Do not move,” before calling in that shots have been fired.

On Thursday, Aden said he has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct a criminal investigation, as is required under these circumstances.

He added that no determination has been made as to whether the deputy’s actions were justified or not.

“Here in Okaloosa County, we pride ourselves on our commitment to transparency and accountability. These investigations take time, but I want to assure you that we are not hiding, covering up or taking any action that would result in a rush to judgment of Mr. Fortson or our deputy,” Aden said.

Aden added that the video footage shows the deputy announced himself and Fortson indicated that he did acknowledge it was law enforcement and still arrived at the door with a firearm in his hand.

Still, Aden said, he hopes a peaceful resolution will be met on the matter.

“I told Mr. Fortson’s family this afternoon that they have my word, if the shooting is found to be unjustified their son’s name will be fully vindicated.”

Updated at 5:53 p.m.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.