Attorneys for retired Tampa cop accused in movie theater shooting say he acted in self-defense

Curtis Reeves’ attorneys Richard Escobar, center, and Dino Michaels speak after Reeves’ first court appearance on Jan. 14. Escobar says the murder charge was misapplied in this case.
Curtis Reeves’ attorneys Richard Escobar, center, and Dino Michaels speak after Reeves’ first court appearance on Jan. 14. Escobar says the murder charge was misapplied in this case.
Published Feb. 1, 2014

Attorneys for Curtis Reeves Jr., the retired Tampa police captain accused of murdering another man in a Wesley Chapel movie theater last month, say their client should have been charged with manslaughter at most and is entitled to be freed on bail.

Tampa attorney Richard Escobar also maintained that Reeves was acting in self-defense in the Jan. 13 shooting.

Reeves, 71, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of 43-year-old Chad Oulson, who was texting his 22-month-old daughter's caregiver during previews before a showing of Lone Survivor.

Authorities said an irritated Reeves left briefly to complain to management about the texting. He returned alone, and the argument continued. Witnesses said Oulson threw a bag of popcorn at Reeves. His attorneys say their client was hit by an unknown dark object and felt threatened. He pulled a .380 semi-automatic pistol from his pocket and fired, hitting Oulson in the chest. The shot also injured a finger on the left hand of Oulson's wife, Nicole.

The case has attracted national attention because of the circumstances and the possibility that Reeves will invoke the state's controversial "stand your ground" law.

The motion points to several elements of that law, which says force, including deadly force, is justified when a person feels threatened.

"Clearly … Mr. Oulson had committed at least one, possibly two felony crimes against Mr. Reeves prior to the use of deadly force," it states.

Escobar argued that the fact that Reeves left to complain to management shows he acted "peacefully and prudently" to solve the problem. It was Oulson, Escobar wrote, who committed battery against Reeves under a state law that protects residents 65 and older.

Escobar also pointed to Reeves' resume, which lists his 27 years as a Tampa police officer and the founder of its SWAT team, as evidence that Reeves knew what constituted a threat and acted in self-defense.

"Mr. Reeves built his career on recognizing imminent danger and responding appropriately," the motion states. Reeves, it says, "was in the best position to perceive that the danger to him and his elderly wife was imminent and that deadly force was absolutely necessary to prevent death, great bodily harm or the commission of a felony/forcible felony."

One day after Reeves' arrest, Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper denied bail, saying probable cause for the murder charge existed. Reeves is scheduled to appear Wednesday before Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa who will decide whether to set bail.

In seeking Reeves' release, Escobar claims that the murder charge was misapplied.

"Although exceptions exist, the crime of second-degree murder is normally committed by a person who knows the victim and has had time to develop a level of enmity toward the victim," he wrote. "Hatred, spite, evil intent, or ill will require more than an instant to develop."

A charge of manslaughter, used in cases where people have been determined to overreact to a perceived threat, is more appropriate, Escobar said. If that had been the charge, the Constitution would require a judge to set bail.

Escobar also cited Reeves' lifelong residency in the area and his extensive family as evidence that he poses no flight risk. He submitted letters from 25 former co-workers or friends of Reeves as character witnesses.