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What is known about fatal shooting involving Florida deputy and Black U.S. Airman

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Florida investigators are looking into a fatal shooting last Friday involving a deputy and a Black United States airman. But as Adrian Andrews of member station WFSU reports, there are still unanswered questions about who was in the wrong. And a warning to listeners - this story contains the sound of gunfire.

ADRIAN ANDREWS, BYLINE: Body camera footage shows the moment an Okaloosa County sheriff deputy shot 23-year-old Roger Fortson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Drop the gun.

ANDREWS: Fortson later died in the hospital. He was a special mission aviator in the U.S. Air Force and was staying at his off-base apartment in Fort Walton Beach. His mother, Meka Fortson, described her child as a loving and hardworking person.

MEKA FORTSON: My shelf, my counselor, my provider - my baby was my everything.

ANDREWS: Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden says the deputy who shot Fortson was responding to a disturbance call made by one of Forston's neighbors. In the body cam footage, you can see one woman directing the deputy to Fortson's unit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Which room is it?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: 1401.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: 1401. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: But the girl sounded scared...

ANDREWS: Fortson was alone in his apartment FaceTiming with his girlfriend when the deputy approached his door. The camera briefly shows the apartment number as 1401. He proceeds to knock on the door twice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Sheriff's office. Open the door.

ANDREWS: As Fortson opens the door, you can see him holding a gun downward in his right hand. The deputy yells for Fortson to step back before shooting him multiple times. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who's representing Fortson's family, notes Fortson was a senior airman with combat experience. He says he did not hear the deputy announce himself and grabbed his gun for his own protection. The deputy's claim of self-defense, he says, doesn't hold.

BEN CRUMP: You put out this narrative demonizing his name as if he did something wrong.

ANDREWS: Okaloosa's sheriff pushed back on Crump's comments, saying he wants to remain transparent. The deputy has been placed on administrative leave. Roger's mom, Meka, says her son did nothing wrong and alleges the deputy and the sheriff's office need better training to ensure people are kept safe.

FORTSON: I know my son did not do anything to you guys. If he scared you or if you guys wasn't trained properly, I apologize.

ANDREWS: This investigation is ongoing. Florida's Department of Law Enforcement is handling the case. Once complete, the state attorney's office will determine further action.

For NPR News, I'm Adrian Andrews in Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Adrian Andrews
[Copyright 2024 WFSU]