But For Video: The Tragic Death of Roger Fortson

He was a 23-year-old active-duty airman, a patriot and, by all accounts, a good person. So why was Roger Fortson shot dead in the doorway to his apartment? Body cam showed the reason, at least from the point of view of the sheriff’s deputy.

As highlighted in the video, Fortson had a handgun in his hand. From the perspective of the deputy, he was there to address a “disturbance” in apartment 1401, Fortson’s apartment.

The bodycam footage, dated May 3, begins at roughly 4:28 p.m. with a deputy arriving at what appears to be an apartment complex.

A woman at the complex is heard telling the deputy there was a disturbance in apartment 1401 and that it was “getting out of hand.”

The same woman tells the deputy she previously walked by the apartment and heard yells and “a slap,” but added she wasn’t sure where it came from.

The deputy takes the elevator to the fourth floor and knocks on a door three times. The apartment number “1401” is visible in the footage. He announces himself twice, saying, “Sheriff’s office, open the door.” There is nothing heard on the footage from inside the apartment.

Why would Fortson appear at the door holding a loaded gun knowing that on the other side, as announced, was a deputy? This is where the perspective shifts from what is seen on body cam video to what was happening with this good and decent young man. Consider the scenario from Fortson’s position on the Good Guy Curve.

Until he arrived at the door, Fortson could not have known whether the person on the other side was really a deputy or someone pretending to be so he could commit a push-in robbery. What Forston did know was that there was no reason for a deputy to be knocking on his door. He wasn’t a criminal and there was nothing, to his knowledge, happening that could conceivably give rise to police interest in him or what was happening in his apartment. Indeed, at the time the deputy knocked, Fortson was facetiming with his girlfriend, hardly something to give rise to law enforcement concern.

So Fortson, unaware of any possible reason for the knock and announce, and unaware of any legitimate reason why a deputy was at his door did what a law-abiding citizen has a right to do: approached with caution. Fortson approached holding a gun, because he had a right to do so.

And his mere holding of a gun was sufficient in the mind of the deputy to invoke the Reasonably Scared Cop Rule. Sure, the gun was pointed down, not at the deputy, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have raised it and fired in an instant. But he didn’t. Instead, the deputy fired five bullets into Fortson’s body. Instead, the deputy shot and killed Roger Fortson.

There is no question that the deputy was at the apartment where, he was told, a disturbance was happening. The sheriff’s explanation was that the deputy heard sounds of a disturbance coming from inside the unit, thus verifying what the deputy had been told. The video, however, reveals no sounds emanating from the apartment. Still, given what woman told the deputy, he had a reason to investigate further.

If your primary concern is whether the cop had an objective reason to be afraid for his life, you will find Fortson’s holding a gun sufficient to justify the shooting. After all, a cop need not wait for the muzzle flash before defending himself from a deadly threat.

But if your concern is that a citizen, a good guy, has a fundamental right to possess a gun, particularly in the defense of his own home, Fortson did nothing wrong. You might question why he had the gun in hand after the deputy knocked and announced, it being unwise to hold a gun when a cop knocks loudly, but bear in mind that we neither have video of the scenario from Fortson’s perspective that offers a better understanding of why he had the gun, nor a person to ask since Fortson was shot and killed.

If the right to keep and bear arms exists, then it’s hard to fault Fortson for exercising a fundamental constitutional right. After all, he was a good guy and had no reason to believe that he posed any threat to a deputy who was inexplicably knocking on his door, assuming it really was a deputy. And yet, Rogert Fortson is dead.

16 thoughts on “But For Video: The Tragic Death of Roger Fortson

  1. MollyGodiva

    I believe you missed the part where the deputy hid out of sight from the peephole in the door. Twice.

    1. Ron

      The first time he appears out of sight of the peephole. The second time, when he opened the door, the dep was clearly visible through the peephole. It’s bad enough without making shit up.

      1. MollyGodiva

        For the second time, the cop was standing to the side of the door. It looks very much to me like he was trying to hide but the railing was in the way. It is unknown from the video if he could be seen by the peep hole. The takeaway is both time he knocked he stepped out of the direct line of sight of the peephole.

        The cop should not have hid or made any attempt to hide.

        1. L. Phillips

          The cop was likely stepping to the side to avoid being shot through the door. I do not know if this move is SOP in this particular department, but it was in mine back in the day. Even SWAT stacked on one side of the door or another, depending upon the situation, prior to breaching.

          This is not a defense of the shoot. Just pointing out what to me is an opinion about the stance of the officer when announcing which may lack context.

        2. Ron

          I suspect police officers are trained not to stand directly in front of the door in case someone shoots through the door. But if their body cam can see the front of the door and the peephole, the peephole can see them.

          That said, we don’t know whether Fortson even looked through the peephole, so it’s unclear whether any of this is relevant to his actions.

    2. Hal

      I heard this mentioned on radio, but have not seen bodycam footage. Does it support this?
      [Ed. Note: Instead of asking, why not watch the video and see for yourself?]

      @ Scott,

      “If the right to keep and bear arms exists…”. C’mon, Scott!

      People have the right to defend themselves and to the means with which to do so, and the 2A protects this right. Do you really have any doubt that the RKBA exists?

      1. PK

        Hello, Hal. That’s a conditional statement which asks you to assume the antecedent. There’s no implication in the statement that Pops harbors doubts just as there’s no implication he’s a true believer. It’s almost as though the post isn’t about that at all.

        1. Hal

          Hey PK,

          I hope you’re doing well/ having a good day.

          Tone’s hard to get from a post, so I’m not certain how to take yours.

          A guy gets shot and killed in his own home for doing something that’s not only legal, but very clearly protected by the 2A (see Heller), so it’s hard for me to see Scott’s post as being about anything but the the RKBA.

          W/ rgd to what sort of rhetorical device writing, “If the right to keep and bear arms exists…” might be, and whether or not it should be called out, reflect for a moment on what you’d say if the existence of another right was being questioned; “If due process exists” or “If freedom of speech exists”. Would you have found that objectionable?

          Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


          1. PK

            It’s less about the right itself than that right coming into conflict with the authorities. It’s even less about the Host’s views on such a right.

            To your questions. No, I don’t. Without getting too far into the logic of it, I think rewriting the offending sentence will show what I mean. “In a world where the right to keep and bear arms exists, then . . .” “If X,” does not place X into question.

            I could continue to parse the sentence, but I think we already killed it. For tone, I was being sincere with a tiny bit of snark at the end. Hope any of this helps. “Conditional statements” are what these are called, for reference.

  2. Richard Parker

    The threat of a push-in robbery is real enough unless I can see a law enforcement vehicle parked outside my place with lights flashing. Playing with the idea of a three digit dial-in phone number (“333” ?) that can be announced for a citizen to confirm that a vehicle has been dispatched to a particular address. Probably would need to be automated in some fashion based on cell phone location: “This is the Farm Town Police Department. A vehicle has been dispatched to your cell phone location. Please co-operate with the arriving officer.” This could also be used when an officer is following a lone vehicle, i.e. a light system flashing “Dial 333!”. I used to drive dark country roads at night and was pulled over in the middle of nowhere a few times.

    I don’t know if this is practical. I’m just trying to get everyone home alive.

  3. B. McLeod

    The right to keep and bear arms works best when exercised with impeccable judgment. The constitution does not guarantee that exercising the right will turn out well.

  4. Pedantic Grammar Police

    It’s unfortunate that cops are trigger-happy, but it’s hard to blame them because they do get shot occasionally. That problem is likely to continue getting worse as our government works to increase crime by importing and coddling criminals.

    In this age of reasonably scared cops, common sense requires us to take precautions. If you’re concerned enough about opening the door, that you have to do so with a gun in your hand, don’t open it. And maybe invest in a camera system. Opening the door with a gun in your hand is dumb on so many levels; this could get a Darwin award nomination.

    1. Ahaz01

      The last time I checked…the freedom loving USA still locks up more of its own citizens than any major westernized nation in the world. Doesn’t seem like much coddling is going on.

  5. Phillip Hatfield

    If Mr. Fortson had opened the door, saw the deputy’s gun, and immediately fired., would we be making any excuses for him at all ? Of course not, he would be expected to have fully noticed the badge and uniform and concluded that a law enforcement was present and that there was no threat, but apparently a trained law enforcement officer is not expected to do any evaluation Puzzling

    1. Miles

      The situation is untenable. There is no way to both protect police from guns and empower citizens to exercise their RKBA. These conflicts will continue to happen, and the cop will almost certainly prevail, and people whose only “crime” is the exercise of a constitutional right will die. It’s a nightmare.

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