The encounter in which a Florida sheriff’s deputy shot an Air Force AC-130 gunship crewman inside his apartment near Hurlburt Field was a split-second confrontation in which the officer drew and fired his pistol directly at the airman immediately after the man opened his front door holding a pistol.

But his family says the graphic video, and a second one recorded by the airman’s girlfriend over Facetime during the shooting, brings up more questions than answers.

Senior Airman Roger Fortson died soon after the May 5 shooting. The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office released the bodycam footage from the incident Thursday afternoon, soon after allowing Fortson’s family to view the footage. His family then released FaceTime footage of a call between Fortson and his girlfriend when the shooting occurred. That audio captures Fortson gasping “I can’t breathe.” 

In a statement through their lawyer, Fortson’s family said, “despite the redactions, the [sheriff’s] video has provided some answers, but it’s also raised even more troubling questions: As the officer didn’t tell Roger to drop the weapon before shooting, was the officer trained to give verbal warnings? Did the officer try to initiate life-saving measures? Was the officer trained to deal with law-abiding citizens who are registered gun owners?” 

Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Sheriff Eric Aden said he met with Fortson’s family for the viewing and offered his condolences to them. He also disputed reports the deputy had gone to the wrong apartment or had entered Fortson’s apartment without warning.

“We are aware of a press release and other comments that falsely state our deputy entered the wrong apartment and implied that they burst through the door into Mr. Fortson’s residence,” Aden told reporters during a Thursday news conference. “Those statements are inaccurate.”

However, in a statement released after the bodycam footage was made public, Fortson’s lawyer, Ben Crump, insisted that Fortson’s apartment was incorrectly targeted, even if the deputy had the correct address.

“We remain adamant that the police had the wrong apartment as Roger was on the phone with his girlfriend for a substantial amount of time leading up to the shooting, and no one else was in the apartment,” Crump said.

Air Force photo

Okaloosa Sheriff bodycam video

From the bodycam video, one key fact previously claimed by the Sheriff’s office is clear: Fortson was holding a handgun when he answered the door.

However, in the brief moment in which the gun is visible before he falls, Fortson is holding the gun at his side.

The video also confirms several other claims that had surfaced around the shooting and dispels others.

  • The deputy loudly identifies himself twice as law enforcement and does not cover the “peephole” in the door — both actions that reports on social media had called into question. However, the deputy does move well clear of the door after his first knock to where he may have been difficult to see through the peephole. It is also not clear if Fortson ever hears the deputy’s shouts.
  • Fortson’s family has said the deputy went to the “wrong” apartment, but the video shows that the deputy was called to the scene by staff of the apartment complex, one of whom directs him to apartment “1401,” a number clearly visible outside Fortson’s door. The staffer escorts the deputy to the elevator that led to Fortson’s apartment.
  • Fortson did not fire any shots and fell immediately to the ground when the deputy fired.
Air Force photo
A video still which shows the deputy arriving at Fortson’s apartment, 1401, the same number he was directed to by apartment staff earlier in the video.

The entire violent encounter lasted five seconds, according to the timestamp on the video: Fortson begins to open the door at 4:32:00. The deputy tells him to “step back” as the door swings open two seconds later, then immediately draws and fires at least five shots (a lawyer for Fortson’s family claimed earlier Thursday that Fortson had been shot six times).

After the shots, with Fortson on the ground, the deputy yells for Fortson to “drop the gun” and Fortson responds “it’s over there” and “I don’t have it.”

The video ends with the deputy reporting that shots have been fired and requesting emergency medical services come to the scene.

Facetime video inside Fortson’s apartment

Crumb and Fortson’s family released a second video on Thursday after the Okaloosa Sheriff’s video was public. That video is a snippet from a FaceTime call that Fortson’s family says was ongoing prior to and during the shooting. Though the video is mostly of a ceiling, but the audio is gruesome, as it captures Fortson wheezing and telling officers “I can’t breathe.”

The officers search Fortson’s home, delaying several minutes before check on Fortson’s medical condition.
Fortson was a Special Missions Aviator assigned to AC-130J gunships under the 4th Special Operations Squadron, 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida. He entered active duty on Nov. 19, 2019. He arrived at Hurlburt Field in March of 2020. His decorations include an Air Force Achievement Medal and Air Medal with a ‘C’ Device. The ‘C’ Device indicates service or achievement performed under combat conditions. He was deployed to Southwest Asia in mid-2023 for which he earned the Air Medal.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is following the case “closely,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Thursday. The Defense Department offers its thoughts and prayers to Fortson’s family.

“A tragic situation here,” Ryder said at a Pentagon news conference. “As I mentioned we’re certainly saddened by the loss of our airman. We obviously need the investigation to run its course, don’t want to get ahead of that. But we certainly never want to see our airmen or any military member or part of our DoD family be put into a situation like this. So, again, we need to allow time for the investigation to run its course, and we’ll certainly have more to say once we’ve had the opportunity to see that.”

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