Florida Sheriff Fires Deputy Who Shot and Killed USAF Airman Roger Fortson

by Tommy Grant

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The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department has a problem on its hands. Several actually. But they severed relations with one of their many problems last Friday by terminating the trigger happy Deputy Eddie Duran after he shot and killed a USAF Special Operations airman Roger Fortson almost a month before.

This on the heels of the “falling acorn” incident where two deputies performed a mag dump on a parked squad SUV after mistaking the sound of an acorn striking the top of the squad car for gunfire. An occupied squad car at that, with a handcuffed suspect inside. Yes, it’s the very same department.

While “Okaloosa County” might not ring a bell for most at first, it’s a very popular tourist destination in the panhandle of Florida with such famed beach towns as Fort Walton Beach and Destin. It’s also home to Eglin AFB.

Fortson answered a loud knock at his door while holding a gun at his side. While it’s not the smartest move, it was kind of understandable given the circumstances. We’ve covered answering the door to unexpected knocks before.  In short, it’s okay to bring your gun, but make sure it’s not visible.

In this case, bodycam video shows that Fortson merely held the gun at his side in a non-threatening manner after answering a very three very aggressive knocks at his door by someone claiming to be a sheriff’s deputy after the final two pounding knocks.

The department issued a release on Facebook on May 31st copsplaining the reason for Deputy Trigger Happy’s termination.

Sadly, Sheriff Eric Aden failed to address the uniform, utter lack of professionalism among his department’s support staff. When I called to register my criticism of how the deputy handled the situation shortly after the bodycam’s release, several someones at Sheriff Aden’s agency would pick up the phone and immediately hang it up. This happened while calling two of the department’s lines on two different days.  Why it’s almost like the support staff settled on that manner of dealing with the callers instead of handling them professionally.

Presumably they saw the 217 area code on their caller ID and assumed that it was another angry American calling to share their displeasure at the OCSD’s apparent homicide of a good guy American by their trigger-happy deputies. However in this day and age of number transportability, they had no way of knowing if I was calling from California or from the parking lot across the street.  The appalling lack of professionalism by the support staff of the department was not addressed in follow-up written correspondence sent to both the sheriff’s email address and their “professional standards” email address.

From the Facebook post:

OKALOOSA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE RELEASES ADMINISTRATIVE INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION INTO THE FATAL DEPUTY-INVOLVED SHOOTING OF ROGER FORTSON

SHALIMAR, Fla. (May 31, 2024) – The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) has terminated Deputy Eddie Duran following the completion of an administrative internal affairs investigation into the death of Roger Fortson on May 3. The administrative investigation determined the deputy’s use of deadly force was not objectively reasonable and therefore violated agency policy.

The OCSO administrative internal affairs investigation, opened immediately after the shooting, is separate from the active criminal investigation that remains ongoing with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. An administrative investigation by the OCSO Office of Professional Standards is inclusive of reports prepared and submitted by OCSO investigators, response to the scene, documented evidence, and official statements. It is limited in scope to determine whether the former deputy violated agency policy. Both the administrative and criminal investigations into the former deputy’s actions are required under Florida law after a fatal deputy-involved shooting. Mr. Fortson is not the subject of either investigation.

OCSO’s General Order 04.01 – Response to Resistance states OCSO deputies are authorized to use only that amount of force that is objectively reasonable to perform their duties. The policy states, “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.” This policy directly references a legal standard established by the United States Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor, which acknowledges the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. The policy goes on to explain, “Deadly force resistance is a subject’s hostile, attacking movements with or without a weapon that create a reasonable perception by the officer that the subject intends to cause and has the capability of causing death or great bodily harm to the officer or others.”

The objective facts as determined by the administrative investigation are:

• The former deputy was dispatched to an in-progress physical disturbance at an apartment complex located at 319 Racetrack Road NW. Dispatch records confirm the location of the disturbance was reported to be taking place in Unit 1401.

• On arrival at the apartment complex to which he was dispatched to, the former deputy met with an employee of the apartment complex who identified Unit 1401 as the location of the disturbance and relayed to the former deputy that there had been recent unreported disturbances at or around the same apartment.

• The former deputy’s interaction with the apartment complex’s employee and all further actions were recorded by his body-worn camera.

• Upon arriving at the door to Unit 1401, the former deputy listened for sounds of any disturbance inside the apartment. Hearing none, the former deputy knocked without announcing and listened for a response. When describing what he heard, the former deputy said he heard: “Something to the effect of it’s the f****** police.”

• The former deputy knocked loudly two more times and announced “Sheriff’s Office” both of those times. The administrative investigation found that the former deputy knocked three times and announced his presence two times within approximately 40 seconds.

• When Mr. Fortson opened the door, the former deputy stated he saw Mr. Fortson holding a firearm in his right hand. The firearm was pointed at the ground sufficiently enough for the former deputy to clearly see the rear face of the rear sight.

• The former deputy confirmed Mr. Fortson did not physically resist him in any way, and the investigation concluded that Mr. Forston did not point the gun in the former deputy’s direction.

OCSO General Order 04.01 – Response to Resistance, Section F.2.d. states, “Deadly force resistance is a subject’s hostile, attacking movements with or without a weapon that create a reasonable perception by the officer that the subject intends to cause and has the capability of causing death or great bodily harm to the officer or others.” 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.

“This tragic incident should have never occurred,” said Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden. “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.”

Sheriff Aden continued, “Our mission at the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is to ensure fair and equal administration of the law, safeguard civil liberties and preserve public safety; doing so with professionalism and unity of purpose, while being good stewards of the public trust. As your Sheriff, I am committed to this mission and to ensure our deputies adhere to the professional and safety standards that come with the inherent risk of being a first responder who, by the very nature of their calling, must respond to potentially dangerous situations where they cannot know what they are about to encounter. In this case, the former deputy did not meet the standard of objective reasonableness and his use of control to resistance was excessive.”

“I want to thank our dedicated team for their around-the-clock effort to ensure a thorough review of the facts here. Since the tragedy occurred, our office has been fully accountable and transparent in its compliance with statutory requirements, providing numerous public statements, making accessible the available body-worn camera footage and other related records, meeting with Mr. Forston’s family and legal counsel, and communicating openly with the U.S. Air Force and our community at-large. We continue to wish Mr. Fortson’s family comfort and peace,” Sheriff Aden concluded.

 

The criminal investigation against now-former Deputy Trigger Happy continues. As it should. We look forward to him seeing his day of justice in a court of law.

Admittedly Oklaoosa County is a big department that covers many beaches, streets, waters and much more in the tourist haven. They undoubtedly have hundreds of thousands if not over a million formal contacts with people each year, the overwhelming majority of which are handled with professionalism and decency. It’s just that when things go wrong and gross negligence of deputies on the streets results in the death of innocent people (or those nearly killed in the case of the acorn incident), that’s…beyond troubling.

These are made worse when the agency’s support staff fail to provide professional service following foul-ups by trigger happy deputies. That readily correctible lack of professionalism is just as unacceptable.  Especially when leadership fails to correct it.

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Read the full article here

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