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Originally published Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 8:07 PM

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Florida’s self-defense laws at issue in fatal shooting in theater

An ex-cop was held in a fatal Florida shooting that was reportedly sparked by an argument he had with a moviegoer who was texting.


The New York Times

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MIAMI — A retired police captain who killed a man after an argument over texting in a movie theater told detectives that he feared he was under attack when the victim hit him in the face with an unknown object, police records show.

The object witnesses saw was popcorn.

On Tuesday, a Florida judge denied bond for Curtis J. Reeves Jr., 71, who was charged with second-degree murder in a case that is likely to revolve around Florida’s much-debated self-defense laws. Reeves faces life in prison if convicted.

He was arrested Monday afternoon after he shot Chad Oulson, 43, who had been sitting in front of him at a matinee in Wesley Chapel, about 20 miles north of Tampa. The dispute started during the previews, when Oulson refused to stop texting.

“He was sitting there texting. It was making noise, and it was causing a problem for Curtis Reeves,” the Pasco County sheriff, Chris Nocco, said at a news conference. “Curtis Reeves asked him a few times to turn off his phone, and Chad decided not to.”

Reeves left to report the issue to an employee. When he returned, Oulson turned around and complained, asking Reeves whether he had gone to report him to the theater’s management.

Reeves, who retired from the Tampa Police Department in 1993, gave an investigator this account: “The victim turned and stood up, striking him in the face with an unknown object,” Detective Allen Proctor wrote in a police report. “The defendant advised that he removed the .380 semiautomatic handgun from his pants pocket, firing one round striking the victim, and that he was in fear of being attacked.”

Reeves then sat back down and put the gun on his lap, the sheriff’s office said. An off-duty deputy in the audience detained him while nurses who had come to see “Lone Survivor” tried to save Oulson.

Oulson was struck in the chest by a single bullet, the sheriff’s office said. The bullet also struck Oulson’s wife in the hand.

Investigators later learned from witnesses that Oulson had tossed popcorn at Reeves. No punches were thrown, they said.

The police dismissed the notion that Reeves was exercising his right to self-defense.

Florida’s self-defense statute, known as the “stand your ground” law, removes a person’s duty to retreat when they fear mortal danger.

The police in another city in Florida, Sanford, cited the law as the reason no arrest was made the night a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, shot and killed a teenager in a fight in a gated community in 2012, a decision that prompted protests across the country.

Zimmerman was acquitted in the high-profile shooting of Trayvon Martin last summer.

“I believe ‘stand your ground’ needs to be proven,” Nocco, the Pasco County sheriff, said. “It was not proven to us that it was a ‘stand your ground’ incident.”

His office refused to say whether Reeves had a permit for his firearm.

In denying bond for Reeves, Judge Lynn Tepper of Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit said that the “evidence of guilt is significant, and the proof is great.”

Reeves’ lawyer, Richard Escobar, did not return a call seeking comment.

Oulson was the father of a 3-year-old girl. He worked at a power-sports dealership in Port Richey, where employees declined to comment.



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