Florida deputy who shot Black airman is fired from his job (2024)

The Florida deputy who killed a Black Air Force airman in his apartment was fired from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office on Friday, after an internal investigation found that his use of deadly force was “not objectively reasonable.”

Deputy Eddie Duran arrived at Roger Fortson’s apartment complex in northern Florida in response to a 911 call about a domestic disturbance. Body-camera footage captured him firing at Fortson six times, seconds after the senior airman opened his door to the officer.

Fortson, 23, was alone in his apartment, and no disturbance can be heard in the video. The Fortson family’s attorney, Ben Crump, has insisted that deputies targeted the wrong apartment.

“This tragic incident should never have occurred,” Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden said in a news release. “The objective facts do not support the use of deadly force as an appropriate response to Mr. Fortson’s actions. Mr. Fortson did not commit any crime. By all accounts, he was an exceptional airman and individual.”

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The shooting sparked outcry in Florida and beyond, with civil rights leaders like Crump denouncing it as another incident of excessive police force against a Black man. According to The Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings from 2015 to May of this year, police killed the highest number of people on record in 2023, and Black Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans.

Fortson’s mother has been calling on the Okaloosa sheriff’s office to clear her son’s name. Deputies initially released a statement saying only that a deputy had responded to a disturbance and “encountered an armed man.”

On Friday, the sheriff offered the most complete account of what transpired yet.

According to the department’s investigative report, a leasing agent made the initial call to the sheriff’s office. She reported that a resident had contacted her about a couple fighting. The leasing agent, whose name was not released, said she had heard a couple arguing in the same apartment at a different time.

When later pressed by investigators about the prior incident, the woman said she wasn’t certain where the fighting she’d heard came from. She was on the ground level at the time, and Fortson lived on the fourth floor.

The woman who reported hearing fighting to the leasing agent on the day of the shooting told investigators that “they were really loud,” although she said she could only hear Fortson’s voice. She said she also thought she heard “scuffling” in his apartment.

She said she was able to hear clearly through an air-conditioning vent in her bedroom.

Fortson was in his apartment alone with his small dog, playing a video game and FaceTiming with his girlfriend when they both heard a loud banging at the door, the girlfriend told investigators. Fortson asked who it was, she said, but got no response. He was concerned.

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“I don’t know who that could be because nobody comes up to my house,” the woman said he told her, according to the report.

Soon after, there was another loud knock. Body-camera footage shows that Duran identified himself, but Fortson’s girlfriend said they did not hear him. Fortson looked through his peephole but did not see anyone, as the deputy was standing out of sight.

After a third aggressive knock, Fortson put his phone down and said he was going to get his gun, “because I don’t know who that is.”

Before joining the Okaloosa sheriff’s office, Duran had served in the Army for 11 years, first as a military intelligence soldier and then switching to a career with the military police, where he was assigned to a special reaction team. That duty includes specialized weapons training and crisis response. He served in Iraq in 2008.

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He worked for the sheriff’s office in the Florida Panhandle from July 2019 until November 2021, and then returned to the department in June 2023.

Duran told internal affairs investigators that he had stayed out of sight of Fortson’s peephole because “there’s a possibility of danger standing in that doorway.”

He said that when Fortson opened the door, “I saw his eyes, I saw aggression … anger,” and then he saw the gun in Fortson’s right hand. Body-cam video shows the gun was pointing down. But Duran said it was at an angle, and he said Fortson took a step toward him. In the video, Fortson is seen holding his left palm up, and he does not appear to step forward.

“I immediately felt that I was at a disadvantage considering he had his gun readily available for use, and mine was still holstered,” Duran told investigators. “So, at that point, action was going to be better than reaction to prevent any kind of great bodily harm or death to myself.”

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The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also investigating the shooting.

On Friday, Crump said the officer’s firing was “a step forward” but “not full justice.”

“While the criminal investigation is still ongoing, we fully anticipate charges to be to be filed against this officer,” Crump said in a statement. “The video footage provides damning proof that this was a brutal and senseless killing of a young man who was simply enjoying time alone with his dog while video-chatting with his girlfriend.”

Fortson was mourned by hundreds of friends, family and members of the Air Force at his funeral near his hometown in Georgia on May 17.

His flag-draped casket was visited by dozens of fellow airmen in dress uniforms, some with tears streaming down their face. He was buried with military honors, including a formal salute and a rendering of “Taps.”

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Chantemekki Fortson said she was at the cemetery choosing the words to be engraved on her son’s burial marker when someone from the Air Force called to tell her the deputy had been fired.

She said the department should have referred to her son by his title — senior airman — and held a press conference to announce the results like they did in the aftermath of his death.

“You just fired this man because you had no choice,” she said. “If you were sincere, you would stand up at the same podium and let the world know that my son did nothing wrong.”

She said she chose the words “never stop loving you” and “they speak war, and I speak peace” on her son’s tomb.

Alex Horton contributed to this report.

Florida deputy who shot Black airman is fired from his job (2024)

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