A florida sheriff released bodycam video of an incident in which a deputy shot and killed Air Force special operations aircrew member senior airman Roger Fortson. Video from Okaloosa SO, photo courtesy US Air Force.

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.

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. 

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.”

Air Force photo

From the 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 as law enforcement and does not cover the “peephole” in the door. However, it is not clear if Fortson heard the deputy’s shouts. 
  • Fortson’s family has said the deputy went to the “wrong” apartment, 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 marked outside Fortson’s door. and was escorted to the elevator that led to Fortson’s apartment. In the initial part of the video, the deputy meets with a woman who says she works at the apartment complex and the woman accompanies the deputy to Fortson’s apartment, making unclear remarks about previous visits to his door.
  • 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” two seconds later as the door swings open, then immediately draws and fires at least five shots (a lawyer for Fortson’s family claimed earlier Thursday that he 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.

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.

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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