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Death in a Pasco theater: 'stand your ground'?

If you believe Curtis Reeves, he was a scared old man who thought he was about to get beat up when Chad Oulson loomed over him in a dark Wesley Chapel theater.

If you believe Nicole Oulson, her husband was calm as the "belligerent" Reeves pestered him about turning off his cellphone before the movie Lone Survivor.

If you believe what was captured on a grainy surveillance video, Oulson's arm came toward Reeves an instant before the retired Tampa cop drew a pistol from his front pocket and fired a single shot.

Was it self-defense when Reeves killed Oulson that Monday afternoon three years ago?

A judge will have to decide.

This Monday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle will begin weighing whether Reeves, 74, should be immune from prosecution in Oulson's death under Florida's "stand your ground" law. Otherwise, Reeves will head toward trial on a second-degree murder charge.

The court has set aside two weeks in which attorneys will present evidence and question experts.

They will go back over the details of what happened at the Cobb Grove 16 theaters on Jan. 13, 2014.

• • •

The movie was scheduled to start at 1:20 p.m. in theater No. 10

Oulson, 43, and his wife, Nicole, were already seated when Reeves and his wife, Vivian, arrived and sat in the row directly behind them.

As movie previews rolled, Oulson scrolled through his cellphone.

Reeves leaned forward and asked him to turn it off, he later told investigators. Oulson responded with an expletive, Reeves said.

Oulson kept looking at the phone. Reeves got up and left to tell a manager. A minute later, he returned. Oulson had put the phone away.

"I said, 'I see you put it away,' " Reeves later told detectives. " 'I told the manager for no reason.' "

Oulson, according to Reeves, said something to the effect of, "if it was any of your . . . business, I was texting my daughter."

Oulson rose on the seat and moved toward Reeves, he said. Reeves put a hand out and shrank backward.

"He kept on hollering," Reeves said. "And it led me to believe he was going to kick my a--."

Reeves felt his head move to the right. His glasses were knocked sideways, he said. Popcorn flew.

"He hit me with something," he told detectives. "I don't know if it was his fist."

In one quick motion, Reeves drew the gun and fired.

Oulson was shot in the chest. He died at the scene.

"As soon as I pulled the trigger, I said, 'Oh, shoot. This is stupid,' " Reeves told detectives. "But again, I'm 71 years old. I don't need an a-- whipping from a younger man."

An off-duty Sumter County sheriff's deputy was sitting a few seats down from Reeves and took the weapon from him.

Vivian Reeves, in a separate interview, said she turned away as Oulson approached. She didn't see the confrontation.

Detectives asked why she thought her husband fired the gun.

"I don't know," she said. "He was in law enforcement 20 years and he never shot anybody. . . . I don't know if he thought he was going to hurt him. That's what I would think, is he thought he was going to be hurt."

Oulson's wife, Nicole, had her arm on his chest when the gun fired. The bullet grazed her middle finger.

Later that day, at St. Joseph's Hospital, she told detectives her version of events, which differed from the story Reeves told.

When Oulson confronted Reeves, she said, she put her arm up and tried to tell him it wasn't worth it. She heard yelling, but didn't see any hitting or shoving.

"He was just very rude from the beginning," she said of Reeves. "Just belligerent. My husband was calm and just said, 'It'll just take a minute. I'll turn it off. The movie hasn't even started.' And he was just nasty."

• • •

In a court document filed in 2015, Reeves' attorneys invoked Florida's "stand your ground" law in requesting immunity from prosecution in Oulson's death.

Passed in 2005, the controversial law says a person has no duty to retreat when faced with a violent confrontation and can use deadly force if he or she fears death or great bodily harm.

In their motion, Reeves' attorneys stated that Oulson twice attacked Reeves before the fatal gunshot — throwing a cellphone at him, then grabbing Reeves' bag of popcorn and tossing it at him. In doing so, the attorneys argue, Oulson committed a number of felonies, including aggravated battery on a person 65 years of age or older.

Reeves, they argue, feared that because of his age and health, he was in danger of serious injuries. They noted his extensive training as a former law enforcement officer in the use of deadly force.

Supporters say the "stand your ground" law extends necessary legal protection to people who use lethal force in the face of grave danger. Critics say it creates a dangerous loophole for people to escape criminal charges.

In 2012, the Tampa Bay Times examined cases where defendants invoked "stand your ground" and found that nearly 70 percent avoided prosecution.

Locally, the law has been cited in cases like that of Trevor Dooley. the Valrico man who unsuccessfully argued he was defending himself in 2010 when he shot his neighbor, David James, during a fight over skateboarding on a basketball court in their neighborhood.

Last year, prosecutors cited "stand your ground" when they declined to charge Jeffrey Glenn in the fatal shooting of Timothy Martin, a former Navy SEAL, at the SoHo Backyard restaurant in Tampa.

Whether it will work in Reeves' case remains to be seen.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

Death in a Pasco theater: 'stand your ground'?

02/17/17 [Last modified: Saturday, February 18, 2017 10:00pm]
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