canada africa partner reservation Experts say a gun alone does not justify deadly force in the fatal shooting of a Florida pilot | News, sports, jobs

Experts say a gun alone does not justify deadly force in the fatal shooting of a Florida pilot | News, sports, jobs


A person takes a photo of Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights in Vancouver, BC on Saturday May. 11, 2024. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press via AP)

By JEFF MARTIN and CLAUDIA LAUER The Associated Press

On the afternoon of May 3, Roger Fortson opened the door to his Florida apartment with a gun in his hand and was immediately shot six times by a sheriff’s deputy in response to a complaint about an argument.

Fortson’s supporters point to the deputy’s quick decision to open fire and his mere presence in the apartment — where the senior Air Force airman was apparently alone and FaceTiming with his girlfriend — as evidence that it was a blatantly unwarranted murder and the latest tragedy involving a black man. American is shot at home by law enforcement officers. Authorities, meanwhile, attacked Fortson as he held a gun as he opened the door, calling the shooting a clear case of self-defense for a deputy faced with a split-second life-or-death decision.

Investigators will consider these factors when deciding whether to charge the deputy in a case that also reflects the reality officers face every day in a country where millions of people carry guns, including Florida, one of the largest gun ownership states.

Police experts say the fact that Fortson was simply holding a gun when he opened the door was not sufficient justification to use deadly force, but investigators will also have to consider what information the deputy knew when he responded and whether Fortson showed any behavioral indication that he was a threat. . They also say the proliferation of legal and illegal firearms is forcing officers across the country to decide more quickly than ever what constitutes a deadly threat.

“The speed of the shooting is quite intense. It’s happening very, very quickly,” said Ian Adams, an assistant professor who studies criminology at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer, after reviewing the deputy’s body camera from the Fortson shooting.

“The presence of a weapon increases the risk. But mere presence does not justify the use of deadly force,” Adams said.

The redacted video released Thursday by the Okaloosa County sheriff’s office in response to allegations from attorneys for Fortson’s family shows the deputy speaking outside the Fort Walton Beach apartment complex with a woman who described hearing someone arguing.

The deputy, whose name and race have not been released, bangs on Fortson’s door, pauses for a moment and then knocks again, shouting that he is from the sheriff’s office. Fortson finally opens the door while holding what appears to be a gun pointed at the ground next to him. Within seconds, the deputy shoots Fortson six times, then yells at him to drop his weapon.

Sheriff Eric Aden said the deputy acted in self-defense, and he rejected the claim that the deputy was in the wrong apartment. Ben Crump, an attorney for Fortson’s family, said they remain adamant that the deputy went to the wrong unit because Fortson had been home alone and FaceTimed with his girlfriend.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating.

Adams said that in addition to the body camera footage, there must be a behavioral indication that a person intends to cause fatal harm with their weapon.

“We also live in a country with more guns than people. “If the mere presence of a firearm were the standard for reasonable use of deadly force, we would be awash in police shootings,” he said.

The increase in gun ownership has changed policing in some ways, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on critical issues in policing.

“This is a tragedy on so many levels, for everyone – for the family and for the officer. Guns speed up decision making and that is the challenge here,” he said.

In a statement Friday, Crump focused on the deputy’s rapid use of deadly force and the lack of a verbal command for Fortson to drop his weapon until the deputy shot him.

But experts say officers are not required to give commands or warnings when using deadly force. David Klinger, professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who is also a former police officer, said it is the norm to warn when possible.

“But if pausing to issue a warning or verbal command increases the risk of a deadly threat, then that is not feasible,” he said.

Scott Lacey, a former Air Force Special Operations Command officer who served in the same squadron as Fortson, said he believes the shooting of Fortson was unjustified.

“To just open the door and see him with a gun and fire six rounds at the senior airman, that immediately screams injustice to me,” said Lacey, who spent time as a state trooper in Arizona after leaving the military. “The pilot did not raise his weapon or show any hostile intent.”

Lacey responded to a Facebook post from Air Force leaders urging people on base to support Fortson’s family while maintaining professionalism. Lacey called the shooting unjustified and urged the commander to instead “take a stand and do something,” adding that he would feel unsafe if the sheriff’s department showed up at his door.

This isn’t the first time the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has come under scrutiny for its use of force.

LaTanya Griffin filed a federal lawsuit against the department in August, alleging officers used a battering ram to enter her home while serving a search warrant in 2019. Griffin, who had been sleeping naked, was ordered at gunpoint to walk outside and remain naked at the front. from officers and the public, she said. She has never been arrested or charged with a crime.

In court filings, attorneys for the sheriff’s office said the deputies’ actions were consistent with “established, reasonable and generally accepted police procedure.” The lawsuit is still ongoing.

“I think the Department of Justice needs to look at what’s happening with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office,” said Kevin Anderson, an attorney for Griffin.

In another incident six months ago, an Okaloosa County officer responded to the sound of a falling acorn hitting his patrol vehicle by firing multiple rounds at the vehicle, which contained a handcuffed black man.

After hearing the deputy shout “shots fired” and “I’ve been hit,” his supervisor also shot at the vehicle. The man inside survived the barrage rattling but unharmed.

Internal investigators found that the supervisor’s actions were “objectively reasonable” because she acted to protect the other deputy in what she believed was an “imminent and imminent danger of death.” But the report found that the deputy who initially shouted “shots fired” did not act reasonably in firing his weapon. He resigned before the investigation was completed.

In her interviews with investigators, the supervisor mentioned that officers had been through a lot in recent weeks, including the killing of a deputy responding to a domestic violence call and the involvement of another in an on-duty shooting.

The Fortson shooting occurred just days after four members of a U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force were killed while serving an arrest warrant in North Carolina. Some officer groups have suggested that such killings could affect how officers perceive threats.

“I don’t think the presence of previous shootings will ever be a justification,” Adams said. “There is no world where officers are not at risk from firearms. Cops swim in danger. But risk alone is not a reason to use force, let alone deadly force.”


Associated Press writer Tara Copp in Washington contributed to this report.

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