Retired officer says he had no choice in theater killing

9 months ago

A retired police SWAT commander testified Thursday that he fatally shot a man in a movie theater eight years ago during an argument sparked by cellphone usage and escalated by a thrown popcorn bag because he feared he was about to be attacked by a person he said was “out of control" and “looked like a monster.”

Curtis Reeves, a 79-year-old former Tampa police captain, said he shot 43-year-old Chad Oulson on Jan. 13, 2014, because the younger, fitter man was cursing at him and about to attack him because he had complained about Oulsen's cellphone use during previews.

Testifying in Pasco County, north of Tampa, Reeves said he fired his .380 handgun because he believed he had no other choice, saying his seated position, his then-71 years and his poor health made it impossible to defend himself with his hands.

“He was so much above me and so full of rage ... that he was going to strike me with all the strength that he could put together. I figured this was the end of the line for me,” said Reeves, who had been hit by his own popcorn bag, which Oulson had grabbed from his lap and tossed back at him. He faces a potential life sentence if convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Oulson's widow, Nicole Oulson, glared at Reeves throughout his testimony, rocking slightly back and forth. Her finger nearly severed by the bullet that killed her husband as she tried to get him to sit down, she testified earlier she never heard him curse at Reeves. She said Reeves had started the argument by ordering her husband put away his cellphone as he checked on their 22-month-old daughter at daycare. Another witness testified that after firing the shot, Reeves had muttered, “throw popcorn in my face.”

His defense invoked Florida’s “stand your ground” law that allows use of deadly force in the face of mortal danger or fear of serious injury, but that was rejected by Circuit Judge Susan Barthle. Since the shooting, Reeves has mostly been on house arrest as his attorneys’ arguments and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the trial.

Under questioning by his attorney Richard Escobar, Reeves testified Thursday that he and his wife, Vivian, had arrived early to see the Afghan War movie “Lone Survivor,” sitting in the back row in the middle. Their son, now a Tampa police officer, was supposed to meet them. The Oulsons were sitting one row in front of them, slightly to Reeves' right.

Dressed in a gray suit and speaking in a clear, calm voice, Reeves said as the previews began, he asked Oulson politely to put down his cellphone because it was shining in his eyes. He said Oulson cursed at him and refused. Turning periodically to face the jury, as police officers are trained to do when testifying, Reeves said he was not angry, but decided to head to the lobby and report Oulson to the manager.

After he returned to his seat, he said Oulson glared at him ...

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