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Florida sheriff's office fires deputy who fatally shot Black airman at home

The Okaloosa County Sheriff on Friday fired Deputy Eddie Duran, who fatally shot Senior Airman Roger Fortson on May 3.
This photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, shows Senior Airman Roger Fortson
Posted at 8:27 PM, May 31, 2024

A Florida sheriff on Friday fired a deputy who fatally shot a Black airman at his home while holding a handgun pointed to the ground, saying the deputy's life was never in danger and he should not have fired his weapon.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden fired Deputy Eddie Duran, who fatally shot Senior Airman Roger Fortson on May 3 after responding to a domestic violence call and being directed to Fortson's apartment.

Body camera video shows that when the deputy arrived outside Fortson’s door, he stood silently for 20 seconds outside and listened, but no voices inside are heard on his body camera.

He then pounded on the door, but didn’t identify himself. He then moved to the side of the door, about 5 feet away. He waited 15 seconds before pounding on the door again. This time he yelled, “Sheriff’s office — open the door!” He again moved to the side.

Less than 10 seconds later, he moved back in front of the door and pounded again, announcing himself once more.

Fortson, 23, opened the door, his legally purchased gun in his right hand. It was at his side, pointing to the ground. The deputy said “Step back” then immediately began firing. Fortson fell backward onto the floor.

Only then did the deputy yell, “Drop the gun!”

The sheriff's office in a statement said the investigation found that “Mr. Fortson did not make any hostile, attacking movements, and therefore, the former deputy’s use of deadly force was not objectively reasonable.”

“This tragic incident should have never occurred,” Aden said in the statement. “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.”

No phone number could be immediately found for Duran. Email and phone messages seeking comment from his attorney John Whitaker were not immediately returned.

According to a sheriff's report, after the shooting when other deputies arrived to render aid, Duran walked into the breezeway outside the unit and struck a wall with his right fist, saying “F***.”

An investigator later asked him why he did that, and he said he thought that he was “about to get shot."

“It was, um, just kind of letting out whatever, you know, built up emotion and frustration,” he said, according to the internal report. “It was just one of these things where, you know, as I’m standing there thinking I’m about to get shot, I’m about to die,” he said.

A photo of slain airman Roger Fortson is held by his mother.

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Funeral set for Roger Fortson, the Black US airman killed by Florida deputy

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8:45 AM, May 17, 2024

“Once said and done, it was just all the emotion going, ‘Oh my God, like just let it out,’” he said.

A criminal investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is ongoing.

The apartment where Fortson lived is about 8 miles from Hurlburt Field, where Fortson was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron as a special missions aviator serving on an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship. One of his roles was to load the plane’s 30mm and 105mm cannons during battles. He earned an Air Medal with combat device, which is typically awarded after 20 flights in a combat zone or for conspicuous valor or achievement on a single mission.

He had no criminal record.

Sabu Williams, president of the Okaloosa County NAACP, applauded Aden's action.

“We appreciate what the internal investigation has shown and what the sheriff has done to this point,” Williams told The Associated Press. “We don't think this is the end of it, obviously.”

He said the NAACP has a good relationship with the Republican sheriff.

“Some of us may have wanted things to happen a lot quicker, but I know due diligence has to take place,” Williams said.

From 2003 through 2014 Duran served in the U.S. Army, with a military career that included a combat deployment to Iraq in 2008, according to the sheriff’s investigative report on the Fortson shooting.

He had worked in military intelligence, and then moved into military law enforcement. He received an honorable discharge, the report states.

After serving in the Army, Duran began a law enforcement career in Oklahoma, where he worked as a police officer and canine officer from 2015 to 2019. He also served as a fire marshal for the Altus, Oklahoma, fire department around 2016-2017, according to the report.

Duran joined the sheriff's office in July 2019, but resigned two years later. He rejoined the sheriff's office 11 months ago.