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Funeral arrangements for Roger Fortson, a black member of the United States Air Force murdered in his home by a Florida deputy



STONECREST, Ga. (AP) – A funeral will likely be held Friday for a Black U.S. Air Force senior airman who was shot and killed in his Florida home by a sheriff’s deputy, a day after the decorated soldier’s mother married in an emotional news conference to hunt justice for her son.

Roger Fortson’s service will likely be held at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the Atlanta suburb of Stonecrest. He grew up in the area before joining the Air Force. The 23-year-old was a senior airman who had served in overseas combat zones and was stationed at Hurlburt Field in the Florida Panhandle when he was shot and killed by a police deputy responding to a domestic violence call.

During Thursday’s news conference, an attorney for Fortson’s family pointed to police radio and body camera footage that he said showed the deputy went to the incorrect apartment.

The airman’s mother, Meka Fortson, spoke enthusiastically about how her son was all the time on target, never in trouble or showing signs of violence.

“Roger was light. There was no stain on his name. He won’t be buried in darkness because he was light,” she said during a press conference.

She also had a message for Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden: “You’re going to give me justice whether you want it or not, Sheriff Aden,” she said.

The deputy, whose name has not been released, shot Fortson six times on May 3 inside moments of Fortson responding to a knock and opening the door to his apartment while holding a gun pointed at the ground.

Sheriff’s officials say a sheriff’s deputy acted in self-defense when responding to a call about a possible domestic disturbance occurring at an apartment complex.

The Fortson family and their attorney, Ben Crump, argue that the shooting was completely unjustified, claiming that Roger Fortson was home alone with his girlfriend at the time via FaceTiming and that the deputy went to the incorrect unit.

Aden denied allegations that the deputy went to the incorrect apartment, claiming at a May 9 news conference that he was aware of comments that “falsely state that our deputy went to the wrong apartment.”

Two weeks after the shooting, the sheriff has yet to release the incident report, any 911 records or the officer’s identity, despite requests for information under Florida’s Open Records Act.

A gradual stream of mourners attended Thursday’s wake at Fortson, including some who didn’t know the family. Among them was Conseulla Childs from nearby Lithuania, who said she hated to see such young people lose their lives.

“I can only imagine getting the call saying you need to bury your child and get him home by the scheduled time,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking to hear news like this, so I just wanted to come and pay my respects.”

Charles Dorsey, from nearby Decatur, arrived wearing a hat that read “U.S. Air Force Vietnam Veteran.”

“I was looking at the news and saw what happened… and it reminded me of when I was in the Air Force. In fact, he had the same rank as me when I was in the Air Force,” Dorsey said. “I wanted to put on my Air Force hat and show respect to the family.”

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Radio transmissions from police during Thursday’s news conference support the family’s claim that the deputy can have gone to the incorrect apartment. In the recording, the dispatcher said the only thing they knew about the disturbance was “third-party information.”

“Uh, I don’t have anything other than a male and a female,” the dispatcher told officers. “This is all third-party information from the front desk of the rental office.”

Crump also pointed to 2 excerpts from the deputy’s bodycam video in which the deputy asks a woman leading him around the complex, “Which door?” The woman replied, “Hmm… I’m not sure.” Seconds later, she told the deputy that she had heard the static two weeks earlier but “wasn’t sure where it was coming from.”

Bodycam video shows the deputy arriving at a Fort Walton Beach apartment complex and talking to a woman outside who described hearing an argument. The deputy then took the elevator and walked through the outside hallway.

The video shows a police deputy banging on the door and moving to the side, seemingly out of sight of the door. He shouted twice, “Sheriff’s office! Open the door!”

Fortson, who was legally in possession of a firearm, opened the door with his gun pointed toward the floor. The deputy shouted, “Stand back!” after which shot Fortson six times. Only then did he shout: “Drop your weapon! Drop your weapon!” The deputy then radioed for paramedics.

Crump said Fortson was talking to his girlfriend on FaceTime and grabbed his gun because he heard someone leaving his apartment. The deputy then forced his way into the apartment, he said, citing the account of the girl, who has not yet been identified.

The case is one of many across the country in which law enforcement officers have shot and killed black people in their homes.

Crump, a outstanding civil rights activist, said the family wouldn’t allow the case to be forgotten or hidden.

“We must hold them accountable. If we do not do it, they will not do anything,” he said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating and the deputy has been placed on administrative leave.

A form of shrine has emerged in front of Fortson’s apartment, where people have left behind combat boots, bouquets of flowers and an American flag, amongst other things.

Fortson was stationed at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He was a gunner aboard an AC-130J and won the Air Medal for combat device, which will likely be awarded after completing 20 sorties in a combat zone or for conspicuous valor or achievement in a single mission.

He was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron as a special mission aviator, where one of his roles was loading a gunship’s 30mm and 105mm guns.

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Maryland Governor Wes Moore intends to issue over 175,000 pardons for marijuana convictions




ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) – Maryland Gov. Wes Moore is predicted to sign an executive order on Monday authorizing clemency for greater than 175,000 people convicted of marijuana charges, the governor’s office said.

Authorities describe these pardons as the most important within the history of state pardons to date. His office said the governor’s actions on paraphernalia cases make Maryland the primary state to take such motion.

According to The Washington Post, which first reported the order on Sunday evening, the pardons will clear charges of possession of small amounts of marijuana for about 100,000 people.

Moore plans to sign the manager order Monday morning on the state Capitol in Annapolis within the presence of Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown.

Recreational marijuana was legalized in Maryland in 2023 after voters approved a 2022 constitutional amendment with a 67% vote. Maryland decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use on January 1, 2023. Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.

“The Moore-Miller Administration is committed to promoting social equity and ensuring the fair and equitable administration of justice,” the governor’s office said. “Because the use and possession of cannabis is no longer illegal in this state, Marylanders should not continue to face barriers to housing, employment or educational opportunities based on convictions for conduct that is no longer illegal.”

Brown, a Democrat, called the pardons “certainly overdue as a nation” and “an issue of racial equality.”

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“While the pardon will apply to anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana or paraphernalia, it unequivocally, without any doubt or qualification, has a disproportionate impact – in a good way – on Black and Brown Marylanders,” Brown said “The Post”.

According to a summary from the governor’s office, the manager order will impact greater than 150,000 convictions for easy possession of cannabis, which may also include greater than 18,000 convictions for use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.

Pardons reflect the variety of convictions. For some people, multiple conviction could have been pardoned in the course of the trial.

A pardon won’t end in anyone being released from prison.

The governor’s office said that after Moore signs the pardon, the Maryland court will make sure that each individual electronic record is accomplished with an entry indicating that the governor has pardoned the sentence. This process should take roughly two weeks.

The governor’s order also directs the state Department of Corrections to develop a process for entering an individual’s criminal record when pardons are entered, a process expected to take roughly 10 months to complete.

A pardon absolves people of guilt for a criminal offense and so they wouldn’t have to take any motion to receive a pardon.

A pardon is different from an expungement. Although the court will note within the case file that the offense has been pardoned, it’ll still appear on the case file. Expungement is the method by which a conviction is destroyed and completely faraway from the general public record, requiring a further step.

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Ozy The media went from screaming to outrage. Its founder, Carlos Watson, appeared in court




NEW YORK (AP) – For nearly a decade, Ozy Media has projected a picture of recent media success.

The company boasted big-name interviews, an Emmy-winning television show, a vibrant festival of music and concepts, and impressive numbers to exhibit to potential investors – until it collapsed in 2021 amid doubts about its audience size, profitability and fundamental integrity .

These doubts at the moment are at the middle of the federal criminal trial. Founder Carlos Watson and Ozy are fighting charges of conspiracy to commit fraud.

Even after many other public and court hearings for Silicon Valley corporations that went from screaming to damage, it’s hard to forget the moment of Ozy’s downfall, when co-founder Samir Rao impersonated a YouTube executive to talk concerning the company to potential investors.

Lawyers for Watson and Ozy blame any false statements solely on Rao, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and identity theft. The defense also argued that prosecutors would criminalize common entrepreneurial bloat and single out Watson, a black founder in a tech world where there are disproportionately few African-American executives.

“I am not now and never have been a ‘fraudster,'” he said last 12 months when the costs were brought against him.

Prosecutors and Rao, their star witness, say Ozy straddled the road between hopeful hype and brazen fraud.

“We told so many lies to so many different people,” Rao testified after the struggling company produced rosy financial results in a desperate attempt to lure investors and stay afloat.

The hope was to enable “a diverse audience to consume hopefully a different, more meaningful type of content,” he said. But “survival within the bounds of decency, honesty and truth has evolved into survival at all costs and by any means necessary.”

“New and Next”

Ozy was founded in 2012 on the Millennial-friendly premise of providing a fresh, sophisticated but not cookie-cutter approach to politics, culture and more – what it calls “new and next” – while amplifying minority and marginalized voices.

The son of two South Florida teachers, Watson graduated from Harvard and Stanford, worked on Wall Street, founded and sold a test preparation company and anchored MSNBC. According to Rao, he fathered Ozy after which recruited Rao, a former colleague from the world of finance, after a probability meeting at a Chipotle restaurant in Silicon Valley.

Ozy debuted a web site, newsletters, and with a bang: former President Bill Clinton was one in all the primary interviewees. The company has expanded into podcasts, events and tv programming, winning a 2020 Emmy for Watson’s “Black Women OWN the Conversation” on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The annual Ozy Fest in New York’s Central Park has attracted big names, from John Legend to pre-presidential Joe Biden.

Testimony shows that the corporate acquired many major advertisers, clients and grants. But behind the scenes, prosecutors say, Ozy began to bleed in 2018 and resorted to lies.

“I don’t know where his numbers came from.”

The company told a possible investor that it “ended 2017 with approximately $12 million in revenue,” but gave its accountants a figure of lower than $7 million. The disparities widened through the years, reaching as much as $53 million compared to $11 million in 2020, according to testimony and documents presented throughout the trial.

Meanwhile, Ozy steadily delayed paying suppliers and rent, borrowed against future receipts to obtain expensive advances, and had difficulty paying salaries, former vp of finance Janeen Poutre testified.

The defense portrayed the scramble for money as a growing problem for a successful startup.

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“Ozy Media did not defraud its investors or anyone else,” said company attorney Shannon Frison.

Watson lawyer and Harvard Law School professor Ronald Sullivan Jr. he said his client “believed every number he gave to every investor.” Sullivan suggested that revenue figures may vary depending on whether or not they represent “in-kind” income, equivalent to promoting trading at one other outlet.

Poutre testified that auditors rarely agree to count such revenues and she or he didn’t think Watson was all the time honest.

“I don’t know where his numbers came from. I know where my numbers came from,” she said.

Fake emails and voice masking

The alleged programs went beyond questionable numbers.

In an attempt to get Ozy a bank loan in 2020, Rao falsified the deal by saying that Winfrey’s OWN network had renewed “Black Women OWN The Conversation” for a second season. When the bank needed information directly from the net, Rao arrange a fake email account for the actual OWN executive and used it to provide the bank with “transaction background.”

Rao told jurors that Watson verbally approved the charade. Jurors saw a text message from Watson urging Rao to “be brave and do this,” but “that” was not specified. Ultimately, witnesses said, there was no loan or extension of this system.

Rao’s infamous phone rang the next 12 months when Ozy was searching for an investment from Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. He falsely claimed that YouTube was paying for Watson’s eponymous talk show. When Goldman’s bankers wanted confirmation, he downloaded a voice-modifying app and talked to them while posing as a YouTube executive.

But the bankers were wary, as the actual YouTube executive soon discovered, and Watson told the board of Goldman Sachs and Ozy that his co-founder had suffered a mental breakdown.

The investment fell through, but Goldman Sachs continued to advertise with Ozy after the episode, Rao said.

Rao told jurors he was taking antidepressants but was not having a mental health crisis when he called. Rao said Watson was present and gave him instructions via text messages.

“I’m a huge fan of Carlos, Samir and the show,” reads one in all the texts, which Rao explained when Watson prompted him with a line for his fake persona to say. Watson then urged, “use the right pronouns. You are NOT OZY” – amongst other messages.

– You’re a liar, aren’t you?

Watson’s lawyer said the Ozy founder stumbled upon Rao’s scam, was outraged and signaled him to hang up.

The defense emphasized that Rao drafted a 2021 letter – ultimately unsent – in which he stated that the phone ruse was entirely his doing. Rao told jurors he wrote it to protect the corporate.

Defense attorneys labeled him an incompetent executive, a confessed fabricator and a confessed criminal who falsely implicated Watson in hopes of avoiding prison for his own crimes.

“So, Mr. Rao, you are a liar, aren’t you?” Sullivan asked during last Friday’s hearing.

“Unfortunately,” Rao replied, “I told many lies during my time at Ozy.”

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Questions and sadness remain at the door of the apartment where a deputy killed an American airman




WASHINGTON (AP) – At the doorway of the apartment where Florida’s deputy president shot and killed Senior Airman Roger Fortson, a small shrine grows, containing tributes from an Air Force unit struggling to manage along with his loss.

There is a long picket board, anchored by two pairs of aviator’s wings, and a black marker where mourners can leave prayers and memories for the 23-year-old.

One of the guests left an open Stella Artois beer. Others left combat boots, bouquets and an American flag. On either side of the door are 105mm and 30mm shell casings, like the ones Fortson used as a gunner on the unit’s AC-130J special operations aircraft – the empty 105mm cartridge is stuffed with flowers.

Then there’s the quarter.

In keeping with military tradition, quarters are left quietly and often anonymously if one other service member was there at the time of death.

The 1st Special Operations Wing, Florida Panhandle, where Fortson served, took a break from normal duties on Monday to process his death and “reflect members’ attention inward, lead small group discussions, enable voices to be heard and engage with teammates.” the statement reads. Wing said in a statement.

In the week since Fortson was shot, a heated debate has erupted on multiple online forums: Did the police have adequate housing? The caller reported a domestic disturbance, but Fortson was alone. Why would the deputy shoot so quickly? Why would police kill a service member?

There are also questions on whether race played a role in Fortson being black and echoes of the police killing of George Floyd.

Fortson was holding a legally owned gun when he opened the front door, nevertheless it was pointed at the floor. Based on body camera footage released by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff’s deputy only ordered Fortson to drop his gun when he shot him. The sheriff didn’t disclose the deputy’s race.

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“We know our air commandos are receiving increasing media attention and conversation about what happened,” Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, said last week in a message to unit commanders.

He urged these leaders to listen and seek to grasp their soldiers: “We have grieving teammates who have been through various adventures.”

In 2020, after Floyd’s death, then-Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright wrote an emotional note to his troops about police killings of black men and children: “I’m a black man and I occur to be an Air Force master sergeant. “I’m George Floyd… I’m Philando Castile, I’m Michael Brown, I’m Alton Sterling, I’m Tamir Rice.”

At the time, Wright was one of the few black military leaders, including now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr., who said they needed to handle the assassination and its impact on them.

“My best fear is just not that I will probably be killed by a white policeman (imagine me, my heart starts racing like most other black men in America after I see those blue lights behind me)… but that I’ll get up and discover that one of our black airmen was killed at the hands of a white policeman,” Wright wrote at the time.

Wright, who’s now retired, posted a photo on his personal Facebook page Thursday of Fortson standing in matching flight suits along with his younger sister.

“Who am I… My name is SrA Roger Fortson,” Wright wrote. “That’s what I used to be all the time afraid of. She prays for his family. The young king of RIH.

On Friday, many members of Fortson’s unit will travel to Georgia to attend his funeral, with a planned flyover of AC-130 special operations aircraft.

“You were taken too soon,” one other senior airman wrote on a picket board outside Fortson’s front door. “Without justice there is no peace.”

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