Saturday, February 24, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Judge correct in rejecting 'stand your ground' claim

Two weeks of testimony did not convince a Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge that Curtis Reeves should be immune from prosecution for shooting and killing a man in a movie theater. Judge Susan Barthle made the right decision in allowing the case, which invokes Florida's badly flawed "stand your ground" law, to proceed toward trial. Reeves should have to face a jury of his peers, and Floridians should pay close attention to changes being considered to the state's infamous self-defense law.

The shooting occurred in January 2014, before the start of a weekday matinee inside the Cobb Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel. Reeves sat down with his wife, Vivian, in the back row. In front of them, Chad Oulson and his wife, Nicole, settled in. Reeves became agitated because Chad Oulson was using his cellphone during the previews. The retired Tampa police captain asked Oulson to put his phone away and the confrontation escalated. Witnesses who were inside the theater described an argument that grew louder on both sides. It ended when Oulson grabbed Reeves' popcorn bag and threw it at him, and Reeves pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired once, striking Oulson, 43, in the chest. Reeves, 71 at the time, was charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery. As unnecessary as it seems to shoot a person over a cellphone argument at the movies, the case immediately raised the possibility that Reeves would claim self-defense under "stand your ground."

The 2005 law says people have no duty to retreat and can use deadly force if they "reasonably believe" they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. Reeves testified that he feared Oulson — who was younger and stronger — was about to pummel him; that Oulson was coming over the seat; that as an older man with numerous health problems, he felt he had no escape but to shoot. Barthle, though, concluded that Reeves' version of events contradicted the physical evidence (which included a grainy theater surveillance video), other witness accounts and common sense. She noted that Reeves left to complain to management about Oulson's phone use, apparently unconcerned about leaving his wife alone in the theater. Because Oulson was out of the frame of the video when the gun fired, the judge rejected Reeves' claim that Oulson was lunging toward him at the moment of the shooting. "The logical conclusion," Barthle wrote, "is that he was trying to justify his actions after the fact."

"Stand your ground" is a bad law that has allowed criminals and violent offenders to evade punishment — even when they initiated a fight with an unarmed victim. Yet the Senate could vote on a bill as early as next week that would make the situation worse by shifting the burden of proof in immunity hearings from the defendant to prosecutors, who would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt why a person shouldn't be immune. In essence, SB 128, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, would require the state to try cases twice. Legal experts predict that if it passes, defense attorneys across Florida will demand immunity hearings in every case where self-defense could possibly apply.

The judge's ruling Friday does not mean Curtis Reeves is guilty of murder. Even though he failed to prove that he should be immune from prosecution, he can still claim self-defense at trial and a jury can decide. Just because Reeves did not win "stand your ground'' protection is no reason to turn a bad law on its head and make it even worse.

Comments
Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the stateís safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last weekís massacre ...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Enough is enough. The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed conversations about gun control in Washington and Tallahassee. Young people are demanding action, and there are cracks in the National Rifle Associationís solid w...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

The nationís conversation on guns took an encouraging step this week in three essential places ó South Florida, Tallahassee and Washington ó as survivors, victimsí families and elected leaders searched painfully and sincerely for common ground after ...
Published: 02/22/18

Editorial: FDLE probe of state fair fiasco falls short

It should go without saying that Florida law frowns upon public officials who take freebies from vendors and whose agency throws business to their family. But that wasnít enough to move the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find that the ex-di...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18

Editorial: Nursing home rule should be stronger

It shouldnít take months or another tragedy for Florida ó which is hot and full of seniors ó to protect its elderly population from heat stroke in the event of an emergency. Thatís why Gov. Rick Scott had the right idea last year in calling for nursi...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18