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Judge: No bail for Curtis Reeves, accused in movie theater shooting

Published Feb. 8, 2014

DADE CITY — A judge ruled Friday that Curtis Reeves Jr., the retired Tampa police captain charged with shooting a man to death in a movie theater, will remain in jail until he goes to trial.

After two days of testimony, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa said prosecutors convinced him that Reeves should not be granted bail. Reeves' lawyers said they will appeal.

Reeves and his lawyers had hoped that Siracusa would be swayed by Reeves' statements to detectives after the shooting in which he said fellow movie-goer Chad Oulson "scared him s---less."

The incident, which has drawn national attention, erupted Jan. 13 in a Wesley Chapel movie theater after Reeves, 71, became agitated that Oulson, 43, was texting.

Oulson's widow, Nicole, 33, nodded slightly and closed her eyes when the judge read his ruling Friday afternoon. Outside the courtroom she said she was "happy and relieved."

Reeves was arrested after the two men got into an argument at a matinee showing of the Navy SEALs film Lone Survivor. During the previews, Reeves became angry when Oulson texted his young daughter's babysitter.

Reeves left briefly to complain to a manager but returned alone. The argument continued. When Oulson threw popcorn at Reeves, authorities said, the retired Tampa police captain pulled a .380 semiautomatic pistol from his pants pocket and fired, hitting Oulson in the chest and his wife in the left ring finger.

In the patrol car with his hands cuffed, Curtis Reeves told detectives he was scared for his life after Oulson came over the seat and punched him in the face.

"Suddenly he's virtually on top of me. I reach in my pocket. I'm stretched out trying to get away from him. I'm either saying 'no no no' or 'whoa whoa whoa.' Suddenly my head was to the right. He hit me with his fist or something. I assume it was his fist and something is wrong with my left eye. . . . I was kind of dazed — had to be from the strike. I felt like I had something in my eye. Still do."

In a surveillance video of the theater played in court Friday, a shiny object appears to hit Reeves and fall to the ground. Then a hand grabs Reeves' popcorn and flings it at him. Reeves then raises his right hand, fires and leans back in his seat.

Dust, dislodged from the camera's lens by the rattle of the gunfire, then flutters across the screen.

Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia used Reeves' own words against him in arguing that he should be held without bail.

"Pointing the gun, firing the gun and his statements constitute second-degree murder," Garcia said. "From his own mouth, judge."

Garcia went through Reeves' statements made in a recorded interview in the hours after the shooting, including: "Good heavens, I didn't mean to do that."

Garcia also brought up how Reeves told detectives Oulson lunged at him and hit him.

"Where in that video do you see Mr. Reeves holding Chad Oulson back like he was describing?" Garcia said. "It's not in there, judge."

It was after the gunshot and before he knew there was video surveillance, Garcia said, that Reeves made up a story about self-defense.

"He knew that he shot that man in cold blood with no justification," Garcia said.

Prosecutors also played a recording of Nicole Oulson's statement to detectives. She said a gray-haired man sitting behind them "got rude" with her husband during previews.

"He was just nasty," she said.

The man left for a minute and came back. By then, she said, Chad Oulson's phone was off.

"We thought that was end of it," she said.

But the man taunted Oulson, she said.

"He said, 'Now you put it away, are you scared?' " she said. " 'Oh so now you put the phone away.' And my husband turned around and stood up and said, 'Dude, what is your problem?' "

At this point, Mrs. Oulson said she put her hand up to her husband's chest in an effort to say it wasn't worth a fight.

She said her husband never hit Reeves.

Reeves' wife, Vivian, also told detectives she didn't see Oulson hit Reeves.

In a recorded interview, she said Oulson "stood up and turned around and was just right there leaning over. It looked like his whole body came forward."

She said she didn't hear Oulson threaten her husband or see Reeves' gun. The whole thing "happened so fast" and she said she saw no sign of Reeves having been injured.

She said her husband, a law enforcement officer for more than 20 years, had never shot anyone.

"He's never threatened anybody with a gun or nothing," she said. "I just couldn't believe it."

In arguing against bail, prosecutors said they met the burden of showing the second-degree murder charge was appropriate.

Reeves' attorney, Richard Escobar, said the video, which he agreed to release immediately to the media, clearly shows self-defense.

"This is not a throwing popcorn case only," he said during his closing argument. "This is a throwing a deadly missile case."

Escobar said he was disappointed by the ruling but not surprised. Neither was Reeves.

"He prepared for this," he said. "This was a murder case."

Escobar said he is confident a jury will ultimately acquit Reeves, who will be in court again in March for a pretrial hearing.

Siracusa made it clear this week's proceedings were not a trial.

"No matter what my ruling is on this motion, Mr. Reeves," Siracusa said, "nothing changes about the fact that you are presumed innocent of this charge."

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