Debate Continues on Florida Airman's Fatal Shooting by Police

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Whenever there's a fatal shooting that starts garnering a ton of headlines, I tend to take a couple of days before commenting. Far too often, the initial reports are wrong. It turns out the media either knowingly or unknowingly omitted some fact that changes literally everything about the incident or they include some claim that's not backed up by any evidence that does the same.

So the shooting of a Florida airman who answered a knock on the door by police with a firearm in his hand was something I wanted to wait and see more on before I commented.

Obviously, most of the media isn't that cautious.

But a lot of people are out there saying that the shooting was not, in fact, justified. Why? Because just having a gun shouldn't lead to fatal consequences.

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


Policing experts say Fortson simply holding a gun when he opened the door wasn't enough 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 posed a threat. They also say the proliferation of legal and illegal firearms is forcing officers throughout the country to have to decide faster than ever what constitutes a deadly threat.

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

“The presence of a gun enhances the risk. But mere presence is not at all justification for using deadly force,” Adams said.

But the big question is whether it was just the presence of a firearm or whether Fortson did anything that looked like an aggressive act or failed to drop the gun when police ordered him to.

Based on what we currently know, that doesn't seem to be the case.

The deputy, whose name and race haven't been released, bangs on Fortson’s door, pauses, then knocks again, yelling that he’s from the sheriff’s office. Fortson eventually answers the door while holding what appears to be a gun by his side pointed at the ground. Within a few seconds, the deputy shoots Fortson six times, only then yelling for him to drop his weapon.

That is a problem.

It's a big problem.

First, this is Florida. While they're not as pro-gun as a lot of states, there are a lot of people there who absolutely love their guns. There are a ton of firearms in law-abiding hands in the state, so the mere presence of a gun doesn't mean anything.

And if you knock on my door in the middle of the night, I'm answering with a gun, too.

The sheriff is saying this is a case of self-defense and that the deputy was at the right house, though the family argues they couldn't have been since they were responding to an argument and Fortson was alone, FaceTiming his girlfriend.

Whether it was the right apartment or not, though, based on what we currently know? This isn't self-defense.

The right to keep and bear arms is real. It's generally agreed upon to apply to all law-abiding citizens--and there's debate about who else it applies to--and that means we have the right to have a gun, both inside and outside of our homes.

As such, the mere presence of a firearm in a non-law enforcement hand does not automatically rise to the level of a threat to someone else's life. In fact, that's partially why there are brandishing laws in the first place, because pointing a gun at someone is aggravated assault but it just being there doesn't rise to that level of threat. (This is not an endorsement of brandishing laws, mind you, just an observation that was relevant to the discussion.)

Further, it's not exactly standard practice to shoot someone first, then order them to drop their weapon. The sheriff can try and paint this as self-defense all he wants, but the fact that the deputy got the order of operations wrong is damning all on its own.

Look, cops have a tough job. I grew up around it and probably understand it as well as anyone who has never worn a badge can. Mistakes can and will be made, even by good officers.

This one, however, isn't one that can just be overlooked. By all indications at this point, an innocent man is dead and he's dead because he was lawfully exercising his right to keep and bear arms.

Unless something contradictory comes out, that's what we know and that's where I stand.