DADE CITY — A judge will decide today whether the public should be allowed to see surveillance video taken from inside the auditorium at last month's shooting at a Wesley Chapel movie theater.
Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa issued a temporary ban on the public release of the footage that captures the shooting of 43-year-old Chad Oulson, who died Jan. 13 after an argument with retired Tampa police Capt. Curtis Reeves Jr. over texting during the previews to Lone Survivor.
Authorities said Reeves, 71, argued with Oulson, who was messaging his daughter's babysitter. Reeves left to complain to management and returned alone. The argument continued, police said, and Reeves pulled a .380 pistol from his pants pocket and shot Oulson in the chest. The bullet also injured Oulson's wife, Nicole, who had put her left hand in front of her husband.
Reeves' attorneys have said their client was hit with popcorn and an "unknown dark object" and felt threatened. They alleged in a motion that the second-degree murder charge against their client was misapplied and that Oulson committed two acts of battery on Reeves, who is entitled to special legal protection because of advanced age. Reeves also is charged with aggravated battery in connection with Nicole Oulson's injury.
The defense had asked for the video last week, and Siracusa ordered the state to turn it over. But the Tampa Bay Times and other news organizations filed public record requests for copies, which prosecutors feared could run afoul of a new state law that bans anyone except a surviving family member from viewing any record "depicting the death of any human being."
Siracusa said "this is America" and that Reeves is entitled to the footage, which the state turned over Tuesday to Reeves' attorneys.
But the defense has not yet viewed it to decide how they might argue against its public release. They expressed concerns that releasing it could taint prospective jurors.
Prosecutors, who had said in a motion filed Monday that they planned to show video excerpts during today's bail hearing, said they want to be sensitive to Oulson's family. They said they don't object if the judge views it privately at a hearing today that will serve as bail hearing and arraignment for Reeves. Assistant State Attorney Damien Kraebel said the video, which is partially in black and white and dimly lit, is not graphic.
Anne Arsenault, an attorney for the Tampa Bay Times, filed a motion Tuesday that the video be released. If the judge decides to add restrictions, she argued, they should be tailored as narrowly as possible. The ban on death depictions allows a judge to release material if "good cause" can be established.
Richard Escobar, one of Reeves' attorneys, said Tuesday that he would like the judge to review all evidence in the file before it is released to the media.
"We need some sort of process," he said. "This is a high-profile case."
Nicole Oulson said it was "very nice" of the judge to delay a decision on the video's release.
One of her attorneys, TJ Grimaldi, said they would defer to prosecutors on the matter.
"Our goal is to see that justice is done," he said.