Mother of US airman calls for justice after he was killed by deputy in his own home

Released body camera footage appears to show the airman had a gun in his hand.

May 9, 2024, 8:27 PM

A mother is mourning the loss of her son and demanding justice after he was killed by Florida police officers.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson, 23, was in his home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida when he was shot by an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office deputy on May 3.

"He was trying to show me things that people that raised me were supposed to show me as a child,” Chantemekki Fortson, Roger Fortson’s mother, said during a press conference Thursday. “So, to the sheriff's department that took my gift… I need you guys to tell the truth about my son. I need you to get his reputation right. If you have a heart, if you have a niece or nephew, any young person in your life, tell the truth about my son."

The deputy in the fatal incident was responding to a call of a disturbance around 4:30 p.m., according to a released statement from the Oklahoosa County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Eric Aden of the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office played the body camera footage of the deputy who shot Fortson in a press conference following the news conference with Fortson's family. In the video the deputy can be heard announcing twice that he is with the sheriff's office. Fortson can then be seen opening the door for the deputy with what appears to be a gun in his hand. The officer shot Fortson within seconds of the door opening. Fortson later succumbed to his injuries, according to the sheriff's office.

"Hearing sounds of a disturbance, he reacted in self-defense after he encountered a 23-year-old man armed with a gun,” according to a sheriff’s office statement. "[This was] after the deputy had identified himself as law enforcement."

The deputy involved has been put on administrative leave and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the state attorney’s office will conduct their own investigations, according to the sheriff’s office.

Thursday afternoon Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in an on-camera statement that Secretary Austin is following the case closely. “First of all, the Secretary is following this closely. And I would like to offer our thoughts and prayers to Airmen Fortson’s family,” Ryder said. "We are of course sad at the loss of one of our own. I know that his death is currently under investigation.”

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump was also at the press conference Thursday with Fortson's family and spoke of Fortson's character.

"He graduated from high school in Atlanta, Georgia," Crump said. "He had dreams of being a pilot. He had always wanted to serve in the United States Air Force, and he was living his dream. And by doing so, he was going to make it better for his mother and his siblings and his family, so they can have a better chance at the American dream."

PHOTO: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson posing for a picture with his little sister.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson posing for a picture with his little sister.
Ben Crump, Attorney

Fortson was on a call with his girlfriend when he heard a knock on the door, according to Crump. When he asked who it was, he heard no response and could not see through the peephole. He told his girlfriend it looked like someone was covering it on the other side, according to Crump.

Someone knocked the door again aggressively, so Fortson allegedly retrieved his legal firearm and when he returned to the hallway of his front door, officers rammed through the door and shot him six times, Crump said.

The FDLE confirmed with ABC News that they are investigating the deputy-involved shooting.

"FDLE use-of-force cases are independent, fact-finding investigations. The results are referred to the State Attorney’s office to determine further action," FDLE told ABC News in a statement. "As this investigation is active, we do not have additional information to provide at this time."

Fortson's family nor their attorneys saw the body camera footage before their news conference.

Hulburt Field airbase, where Fortson was stationed, stated in a release regarding the shooting that Fortson was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron and entered active duty on Nov. 19, 2019.

"Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is the lead investigation agency in this incident," according to Hurlburt Field in the statement. "To protect the integrity of the investigation, no other information will be released at this time. The 1st Special Operations Wing’s priorities are providing casualty affairs service to the family, supporting the squadron during this tragic time, and ensuring resources are available for all who are impacted."

The state attorney nor coroner’s office immediately responded to ABC News’ request for comment.