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The Killing of Roger Fortson: Police Shoot Dead Black Airman After Entering Wrong Home

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Image Credit: Ben Crump Law/Okaloosa County Sheriff's Department

We speak with civil rights attorney Ben Crump about the police killing of Roger Fortson, a Black 23-year-old Air Force member who was fatally shot by a Florida police officer mere moments after opening the door of his apartment. Fortson’s family says the police had arrived at the wrong home and that Fortson had grabbed his legal firearm as a precaution. Police body-camera footage shows Fortson answered the door with his gun at his side, not posing an imminent threat to the officer, who immediately shot Fortson six times. “The Second Amendment applies to Black people, too,” says Crump, who has represented victims of police violence in many high-profile cases. The police claim that officers were responding to a domestic dispute is contradicted by the fact that Fortson was home alone, Crump says. “They need to go ahead and admit that it was the wrong apartment and quit trying to justify this unjustifiable killing.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A warning to our listeners and viewers: This next story includes video and descriptions of police killing a man in his apartment.

In Florida, the family members of a 23-year-old Air Force member killed by a sheriff’s deputy May 3rd are demanding justice. Newly released body-camera footage shows Roger Fortson answering the door of his own apartment and immediately being fatally shot by an Okaloosa County officer.

SHERIFF’S DEPUTY: Sheriff’s Office. Open the door! Step out. [gunfire] Drop the gun! Drop the gun!

ROGER FORTSON: It’s over there.

SHERIFF’S DEPUTY: Drop the gun!

ROGER FORTSON: I don’t have it.

SHERIFF’S DEPUTY: 312, shots fired. Suspect down. Do not move! 312, get EMS my location.

AMY GOODMAN: Roger Fortson’s relatives say the deputy arrived at the wrong apartment, which authorities have refuted. This is Roger Fortson’s mother, Chantemekki Fortson.

CHANTEMEKKI FORTSON: So, to this sheriff department, that took my gift, that had so many, so many accolades inside of him, to err is human, and to forgive is divine. I need you guys to tell the truth about my son.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Ben Crump, civil rights attorney representing Fortson’s family.

Ben, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, if you can really take us through what happened here? What happened when — the airman was on Zoom with his girlfriend, sitting in his apartment?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yes, Amy. It is tragic on so many levels. U.S. Airman Roger Fortson was an American hero. He was a patriot. He was a young man who was doing all the right things. He was trying to provide for his mother, his 10-year-old sister Harmony, his 16-year-old brother André. He was highly intelligent. He was special ops. He was the best that we had to offer America.

And on this day, there was a call about a domestic disturbance. Well, we know it was the wrong apartment for many reasons, but the main one being Roger was in his apartment by himself doing FaceTime video with his girlfriend. And he was the only person. He had his little dog in the apartment.

And so, the officer came, knocked on the door. Roger and them didn’t know who it was. He never heard who it was. But Roger opened the door with his licensed, registered gun, because the Second Amendment applies to Black people, too. And he kept the gun in a down position, opened the door. The officer tells him to step back. He starts to step back, and then immediately he is executed by six shots from the sheriff’s deputy, without giving any verbal command to drop the weapon, “put your hands up,” or anything. It’s not 'til that young man is lying down, down dying, where he says, “Drop the weapon. Drop the weapon.” And Roger is even trying to comply after he's been shot. He says, “I don’t have it. It’s over there.”

And then, the FaceTime video of his girlfriend is just horrible, Amy, because you hear him saying, “I can’t breathe,” and you hear the police officer steady barking orders, talking about “Don’t move. Don’t move.” And we lose this young man, which was one of the brightest lights for his family and our community.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, Ben Crump, this reminds me of — and many people, of the killing of the 26-year-old accountant, Botham Jean, who was eating ice cream, I think he was watching TV, when a police officer came in, in 2018, Amber Guyger. She thought she was entering her own apartment in the apartment complex, but she was just confused and entered his apartment and killed him, because she said she thought he was an intruder in her apartment.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yeah. It reminds me of Botham Jean. It reminds me of Breonna Taylor. It reminds me of Atatiana Jefferson — any number of Black people who were — young Black people who were just in their apartments minding their business when the police killed them unjustifiably.

And this is tragic, because that video is so horrific. I mean, he doesn’t give him any chance. He immediately starts to shoot and kill him. And so, this raises many issues. And the military needs to make sure his reputation is without stain, as his mother said. The first report went out, Amy, saying, well, he was killed in self-defense, there was a domestic dispute, and so forth. And there’s nothing to suggest that. So, the Okaloosa Sheriff’s Department needs to not try to assassinate his character, now that they have assassinated his person. And we have to honor him as a patriot and a hero and have accountability for this police officer.

And this apartment complex, at the beginning of the video, they asked a leasing representative, “Where’s the disturbance coming from?” She says, “I’m not sure.” They asked her again. She’s still not sure. But then, the third time, she say, “It’s in apartment 1401,” which is his apartment. And they go, and we see what happened. And we will not let them sweep this under the rug.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are the authorities saying? Can you explain why they went into his apartment?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, they’re saying because they were told it was a domestic dispute. But he was the only one there, him and his dog. He was on FaceTime with his girlfriend. So, they need to go ahead and admit that it was the wrong apartment, and quit trying to justify this unjustifiable killing. I mean, it is — it’s just horrible.

His funeral is going to be Friday in Atlanta, Georgia. And hopefully, by then, they won’t continue to have this incorrect narrative that they went to the right apartment, because as long as they do that, that is dishonoring his legacy and his commitment to being a person who respected the rules, respected authority, did the right things, and was one of our brightest spots, a true American patriot. And he should be honored and remembered as such.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ben Crump, the U.S. Special Operations Affairs — I mean, he was a U.S. airman — released a press release saying, “Our focus [is] on Senior Airman Fortson’s family, providing necessary resources … We respect the legal process and the family’s right to secure representation.” Can you talk about the significance of the U.S. military acknowledging and monitoring this killing?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: I think it’s very important, as this young African American airman, who was a senior airman, he is part of the military family. And so we would expect that they will stand up and make sure he’s given the same dignity and respect that you would afford a military personnel who has done everything appropriate to serve his country.

The fact that, you know, we haven’t heard from the NRA — I mean, we’re in Florida. Florida encourages citizens to have guns and have their right to the Second Amendment. Well, it should be foreseeable for police officers, if you’re coming to somebody’s house in a state like Florida, where many citizens have guns, well, how are you supposed to interact with them when they’re exercising their basic constitutional rights. And that’s why you have many people in our community saying, “Hold on. Where’s the NRA?” This is a Second Amendment issue. He was a registered gun owner. He was militarily trained. He was responsible. He respected authority. This is the type of person you would want to have own a gun. But you haven’t heard anything from them. So, hopefully, the military will continue to shine the light on this, to make others stand up and decry this tragic killing of this innocent young American patriot.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Ben Crump, on a totally different issue, last Malcolm X Day, on the assassination — the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, you announced the family’s lawsuit. And I’m wondering if the mayor of New York City — one of the things you’ve requested is the release of key evidence in the assassination. Has Mayor Adams, a former police officer, responded?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Not in a formal manner, but we expect to have updates for you very soon.

AMY GOODMAN: Very good. When we come back, we are coming back here to New York, but we’re going to be looking at another police killing, the police killing of a 19-year-old teenager who called 911 himself asking for help. He was in a mental health crisis. The police came and shot him dead in front of his mother and brother. Stay with us.

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