Senior Airman Roger Fortson of the U.S. Air Force

Senior Airman Roger Fortson. | Source: U.S. Air Force

A Florida police department is under scrutiny for shooting to death a young Black Air Force officer under questionable circumstances earlier this month. But the killing of Senior Airman Roger Fortson is far from the first time the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has found itself at the center of a scandal involving allegations of reckless violence.

Roger Fortson

Fortson, 23, was gunned down in his own apartment on May 3 within seconds of opening his front door when an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s deputy responded aggressively to a report of a “disturbance” that an eye- and earwitness claims never existed at that location.

Less than a week after Fortson was killed, the initial shooting narrative provided by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has been undermined by that witness – Fortson’s girlfriend – who said the police responded to the wrong apartment.

Bodycam video footage made public last week shows the deputy banging loudly on an apartment door. When Fortson – possibly suspecting an intruder – answered the door while brandishing a legally owned gun that was facing down, the deputy immediately opened fire and shot the young Airman six times.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office claimed the deputy and other cops on the scene rendered medical aid, but Fortson’s girlfriend suggested otherwise and shared video footage proving it, attorneys said. The footage is from a Facetime call she and Fortson were having when he was shot.

Fortson’s family suggested in a statement after watching the bodycam video of the shooting that the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office was not being entirely truthful.

“In the four-and-a-half-minute, heavily redacted video, it is very troubling that the deputy gave no verbal commands and shot multiple times within a split second of the door being opened, killing Roger,” the family said in a statement shared with NewsOne last week. “Despite the redactions, the 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?”

Fortson’s family added that they “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.”

Fortson’s family also shared the nearly four-minute-long video footage from the FaceTime call. The video, which is graphic and should be viewed with discretion, can be watched by clicking here.

As an investigation begins into what exactly happened that led to Fortson’s death, NewsOne took a deeper look at the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and uncovered an apparent trend of violence, recklessness and various criminal activities involving all levels of the department, from the sheriff on down to the deputies.

The ‘acorn’ shooting

In November, an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s deputy infamously shot at an unarmed and handcuffed Black man nearly two dozen times after mistaking the sound of a falling acorn for a gunshot. In that instance, now-former deputy Jesse Hernandez is shown on video shooting at unarmed suspect Marquis Jackson – who was not injured – after an acorn fell onto the roof of the patrol car. That prompted Hernandez to yell “shots fired!” before he fired at least 22 of his own shots from his service weapon.

Hernandez was allowed to resign gracefully in December while he was under investigation.

In what could be a sign of things to come from the police shooting and killing Fortson, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office ultimately described Hernandez’s actions on that fateful day as “reasonable” and cleared him of any wrongdoing.

In March, Jackson sued the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office seeking unspecified damages because “There was a chance that I could have died from each bullet that was shot at me.” He questioned whether he would “ever have peace of mind again” following the traumatizing experience.

Police brutality lawsuit

In March of last year, a white man sued the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office alleging his civil rights were violated. Robert Owen’s lawsuit claims that he was the victim of a violent arrest in 2018 that included being pepper sprayed while he was already handcuffed. When Owen questioned whether a deputy’s bodycam was recording, the lawsuit claims the deputy “pushed him violently onto the hood of the patrol car” before being “slammed” on the ground. The lawsuit cited bodycam footage that showed Owens bloodied and handcuffed while asking “why  are  you  doing  this  to  me?”

Okaloosa County Sheriff indicted

In 2009, the FBI announced that former Okaloosa County Sheriff Charles “Charlie” W. Morris had been federally indicted along with former Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Director of Administration Teresa Adams. Morris and Adams were accused of “conspiracy to commit theft of programs receiving Federal funds, by converting to their own use and the use of others property and funds of Okaloosa County and of the Sheriff’s Department,” am,ong other crimes like money laundering and wire fraud.

From the FBI:

The indictment alleges that while Sheriff, Morris, with the assistance of his Director of Administration and Finance, Adams, created fictitious bonuses to sheriff’s department employees. The indictment alleges that Sheriff’s Office employees were directed to return all or a portion of the bonuses in the form of cash and cashier’s checks under the pretense that these returned funds were to be used for charitable purposes.

Morris, who was also the head of the Florida Sheriffs’ Association when he was busted breaking laws that he and his department were charged with enforcing, was ultimately found guilty, sentenced to nearly six years in federal prison and fined $212,000.

Adams was sentenced to 36 years in federal prison.

Both avoided additional prison time stemming from state charges when a Florida judge in 2012 only sentenced them each to 20 years of probation.

Okaloosa deputy is suspected pedophile

In 2019, an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office deputy was arrested for allegedly soliciting sex from a 9-year-old girl. Cansas Sadler Jr., who was quickly fired from his position, fell victim to a scheme to trap adults who prey sexually on children. “Sadler sent the young girl three pornographic images and several sexually explicit messages,” Spectrum News reported at the time.

More from Spectrum News:

According to Polk County officials, Sadler messaged the victim through an online interactive mobile game called, “The Wolf,” where he portrayed himself as an 11-year-old girl named Jade and an adult male named Jason, in an attempt to manipulate the victim into sending nude photos of herself and to meet up for a sexual encounter.

Deputy recklessly fires in residential neighborhood

A little more than a year ago, an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s deputy shot at an armed suspect hiding behind a car in a residential neighborhood. The allegedly indiscriminate shooting left a resident with a bullet hole in her car, which the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office refused to pay for, with its insurance company claiming the shooting was justified. Luckily, no one was hit by any of the stray bullets the unidentified deputy shot.

Excessive force complaint

In 2022, a young Black man named Kendrick Wright who suggested he was profiled when he was violently arrested and tasered while being taken into custody for alleged crimes that were ultimately proven to have never taken place. Bodycam footage eventually exonerated Wright, prompting charges of resisting arrest to be dropped. Wright ended up suing the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office for excessive force and false arrest.

As the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Fortson’s funeral is scheduled to be held on Friday in Georgia.

Use of force experts say that the presence of Fortson’s gun doesn’t necessarily justify the Okaloosa deputy shooting him.

And now, Air Force leaders have cautioined their servicemen against assuming that “law enforcement did something wrong” by shooting Fortson.

This is America.


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The post Roger Fortson’s Police Killing And The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office’s History Of Brutality, Recklessness And Crime appeared first on NewsOne.

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