Florida Deputy Who Fatally Shot Airman Fired

Caden Pearson
By Caden Pearson
June 1, 2024US News
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Florida Deputy Who Fatally Shot Airman Fired
Senior Airman Roger Fortson on Dec. 24, 2019. (U.S. Air Force via AP)

A Florida sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot an active-duty airman in his Fort Walton Beach home last month has been fired after an investigation found the use of deadly force violated agency policy, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office announced on Friday.

An administrative investigation determined that Deputy Eddie Duran’s use of deadly force against Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson was “not objectively reasonable” and thus violated agency policy, according to the sheriff’s office.

“The objective facts of the administrative investigation concluded that Mr. Fortson did not make any hostile, attacking movements, and therefore, the former deputy’s use of deadly force was not objectively reasonable under OSCO’s policy,” the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said.

The administrative investigation revealed that the deputy was dispatched to an in-progress physical disturbance at an apartment complex shortly before the shooting, which happened around 4:30 p.m. on May 3.

Body-Worn Footage

Officers received a call about a disturbance in progress, which a neighbor had also reported to the building’s main office as having been ongoing for around 30 minutes.

According to a report by the OCSO Office of Professional Standards, the neighbor reported the alleged domestic disturbance, saying, “I feel like they’re getting a little handsy.” Another neighbor also reported it to the sheriff’s non-emergency line.

A four-and-a-half-minute video from the deputy’s body-worn camera was released after the airman’s family disputed that the deputy acted in self-defense. The family claimed that Mr. Forston did nothing wrong, that the deputy went to the wrong home, and that he was alone in the apartment and on Facetime with his girlfriend.

Upon arrival, the deputy spoke with an apartment complex employee who confirmed the unit number and mentioned prior unreported disturbances.

At the door of Unit 1401, Mr. Duran knocked and announced his presence as “Sheriff’s Office” twice within approximately 40 seconds. Mr. Fortson is heard saying, “[expletive] police.”

Upon opening the door, Mr. Fortson, 23, was seen holding a legally purchased firearm pointed at the floor. He did not resist physically or point the gun at the deputy. The investigation concluded that Mr. Fortson did not make any hostile or attacking movements.

‘Step Back!’

Mr. Duran shouted for Mr. Fortson to “step back!” and then fired six rounds.

The body-worn camera shows that Mr. Fortson’s right hand and his firearm came into the frame. The firearm is down at his side, pointed straight down. Mr. Forston’s left hand began raising with his palm facing outward.

Mr. Fortson fell back towards his right side while his left hand moved to clutch his chest. His firearm remained momentarily in his right hand as he fell until his hip struck the ground.

After the shooting, the deputy shouted, “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” Mr. Fortson, who was no longer holding the gun, said, “It’s over there,” and, after another command to drop the gun, said, “I don’t have it.”

Mr. Duran reported over his radio, “Shots fired, suspect down,” and told the airman, “Do not move,” before calling for paramedics. When other deputies arrived, Mr. Duran told them Mr. Fortson “had a gun as soon as he opened that door.”

The airman was transported to a nearby hospital, where he passed away due to his injuries.

‘Should Have Never Occurred’: Sheriff

According to Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office policy, deputies are authorized to use only a reasonable amount of force to perform their duties.

“Deadly force shall only be used when the officer reasonably believes that the action is in defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in defense of any person in imminent danger of serious physical injury,” the policy states, according to the sheriff’s office.

Per the policy, it was not enough that Mr. Fortson was merely holding the weapon to warrant deadly force; he had to be exhibiting “hostile, attacking movements” that created a “reasonable perception” of an intent to cause bodily harm and have the capability.

“This tragic incident should have never occurred,” Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden said in a statement on Friday. “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.”

Mr. Fortson was with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, assigned to the squadron’s AC-130J gunships at Hurlburt Field, Florida. He had been an airman for three years at the time of the incident.

A lawyer for his family said during a news conference following the incident that Mr. Fortson was “an incredible young man, brother, friend, and accountability partner who was always willing to give his last to support someone else.”

“Now, sadly, this incredible USAF Senior Airman has been taken from us. We demand JUSTICE!” the attorney stated.

His neighbors told law enforcement about previously unreported domestic violence incidents involving Mr. Fortson, according to the report.

Investigation

The administrative investigation was separate from the ongoing criminal investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

In a post-incident interview with the OCSO Office of Professional Standards, which conducted the administrative investigation, Mr. Duran said that as he opened the door, he first looked into Mr. Fortson’s eyes and saw “aggression,” then looked at his hands and saw the gun.

Having already assessed that he was in a vulnerable position in the building’s open-air breezeway four levels up and with “maybe three to four feet of a reactionary gap,” the deputy, whose own gun was still holstered, interpreted the airman taking a “slight step forward” as indicating “intent.”

“So as I am taking all of it in, I see him step forward. I see his eyes, I look down, I see his hands, and of course, that’s when I see the gun,” the deputy said.

“Uh, immediately I thought, I am stuck in this area, and I’m about to get shot,” he added when asked a follow-up question.

In a statement issued by the airman’s family on May 10, concerns were raised about the deputy’s actions and training to respond to “law-abiding citizens who are registered gun owners.”

Mr. Duran was first employed by the sheriff’s office in July 2019, resigning in 2021 before returning to the service in 2023 after completing a bachelor’s degree in criminal psychology. According to the investigation report, he completed a Response to Resistance training last summer, making him current on the training. The deputy was current in his firearm qualifications and, among other things, was trained to respond to domestic violence complaints.

Mr. Duran served in the military for over a decade, including a combat deployment in Iraq in 2008. During his service, he was a military police officer and received training through the Army’s Special Reaction Team. He was honorably discharged. He is studying for a master’s degree in human service counseling with a focus on crisis response and trauma.

From The Epoch Times

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