Roger Fortson: Airman killed by Florida deputy laid to rest

Family and friends of a Black U.S. Air Force senior airman who was shot and killed in his Florida apartment by a sheriff’s deputy have gathered at a Stonecrest church on Friday morning for his funeral.

Roger Fortson’s service is taking place at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Pastor Jamal Bryant will deliver the eulogy at the funeral. 

There were a lot of tears at Fortson’s funeral with hundreds turning out, including fellow service members. 

A long procession followed on Interstate 20 to his final resting place at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in northwest Atlanta.

With tears in her eyes, Meka Fortson stood over her son’s casket Friday as she and her family said goodbye to Roger. 

Roger’s funeral came exactly two weeks after he was shot and killed in the front doorway of his home. 

"I will never forgive y’all for what you did to my baby cousin," said Brequita and Ricquita Fortson. 

Fortson, a 23-year-old active-duty senior airman, was fatally shot by a Florida sheriff’s deputy on May 3. The Atlanta native, who enlisted in the military after graduating from high school with honors, had no criminal record, according to Crump's office. He was recognized as a stellar member of the Air Force and was well-loved by his community.

"As devastating as this is, we got to make him proud now," said Ravyn Wilburn, Roger’s sister. 

At his celebration of life service friends and family gathered to pay tribute to him, but they were not the only ones.   

"Nothing can bring him back that I'm going to say, but he will live in our Air Force hearts forever," said Col. Patrick Dierig from the U.S. Air Force. 

There was a sea of Air Force blue in the audience. All of them are fellow service members honoring their fallen comrade. 

"Senior Airman Fortson will always be in our lives, he will always be in our hearts because he is now one of those giants on which the shoulders we stand," said Lt. General Tony Bauerfeind from the Air Force. 

Roger’s homegoing celebration was as much about honoring him as it was demanding justice. 

"Roger, ladies and gentleman, was killed in cold blood," said New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Senior Pastor Jamal Bryant. 

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(Billy Heath/FOX 5)

The deputy, whose name has not been released, shot Fortson six times within moments of Fortson responding to the deputy’s knocking and opening the door of his apartment while holding a handgun pointed at the ground.

"If we can't be safe in the sanctity of his own apartment, where can we be safe," asked Ben Crump, the family’s attorney. 

The family says the deputy was at the wrong apartment, but the sheriff disputes that. During the eulogy, Pastor Bryant demanded something be done.   

"I came to tell America we ain't alright," he said. "This is not right." 

Sheriff’s officials say the deputy acted in self-defense while responding to a call about a possible domestic disturbance in progress at the apartment complex.

The Fortson family and their attorney, Ben Crump, argue the shooting was completely unjustified, saying Roger Fortson was home alone at the time FaceTiming with his girlfriend and that the deputy had gone to the wrong unit.

Family shares police recordings showing Fortson's death

Police radio traffic played at the news conference Thursday bolsters the family’s contention that the deputy may have gone to the wrong apartment. In the recording, a dispatcher said all they knew about the location of the disturbance was "fourth-party information."

"Uh, don’t have any further other than a male and female," the dispatcher told officers. "It’s all fourth-party information from the front desk at the leasing office."

Crump also highlighted two portions of the deputy’s bodycam video in which the deputy asked a woman who was leading him around the complex, "Which door?" The woman responded, "Um… I’m not sure." Seconds later, she told the deputy that she heard a disturbance two weeks before that, but "I wasn’t sure where it came from."

The bodycam video shows the deputy arriving at a Fort Walton Beach apartment building and speaking to a woman outside who described hearing an argument. The deputy then went up an elevator and walked down an outdoor hallway.

The video shows the deputy banging on the door and stepping aside, seemingly out of view of the door. Twice he shouted: "Sheriff’s office! Open the door!"

Fortson, who legally owned a firearm, opened the door while holding a handgun pointed toward the floor. The deputy shouted, "Step back!" and then shot Fortson six times. Only afterward did he shout, "Drop the gun! Drop the gun!" The deputy then called paramedics on his radio.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating, and the deputy has been placed on administrative leave. Two weeks after the shooting, the sheriff has yet to release an incident report, any 911 records or the officer’s identity, despite requests for information under Florida’s open records act.


Mourners pay respect at Robert Fortson's wake

A steady stream of mourners attended a wake for Fortson on Thursday, including some who didn’t know the family. Among them was Conseulla Childs, of nearby Lithonia, who said she hates seeing people so young lose their lives.

"I can only imagine getting that call to say that you have to bury your child and give your child a homegoing before your time," she said. "So it’s just heartbreaking to ever get that kind of news, so I just wanted to come and pay my respects."

Charles Dorsey, of nearby Decatur, arrived in a hat emblazoned "U.S. AIR FORCE VIETNAM VET."

"I was looking at the news and saw what happened ... and he reminded me of when I was in the Air Force. As a matter of fact, he had the same rank I had when I was in the Air Force," Dorsey said. "I wanted to put on my Air Force cap and show my respects for the family."

Family of Senior Airman Roger Fortson demands justice

Family members of Fortson spoke through tears just a day before his funeral, as they dealt with his loss. 

"They took my uncle from me, and I just want justice for him," said his niece, Londyn Fortson. 

"His family was the most important thing to him, so he took care of us," said his sister, Ravyn Wilburn.  

"He may be my brother, but he was the best brother I could ever ask for," said his little sister, Harmoni Fortson.  

"He had a mama that's a poor black single mom, and I’ll walk through the fire for justice," Meka Fortson said. 


Fortson's mom and family say they will not stop fighting for him as they deal with the grief. 

"Roger was light, there will not be a stain on his name," Meka said. "He will not be put to rest in darkness because he was light." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.