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'Throw popcorn in my face,' some heard Reeves say at time of movie theater shooting

Circuit Court Judge Susan Barthle presides over the State of Florida versus Curtis Reeves "stand your ground" hearing at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City, Florida, on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. Reeves, a retired Tampa Police Department captain, shot and killed Chad Oulson, 43, over the use of his cellphone during a confrontation inside the Cobb Grove 16 theaters in Wesley Chapel, Florida in 2014. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Mar. 3, 2017

DADE CITY — Right about the time that Curtis Reeves drew a pistol and shot Chad Oulson in the chest, killing him, three different people heard Reeves say something about popcorn.

"Throw popcorn in my face," was what Mark Turner, a retired Air Force officer, recalled hearing from his spot at the end of Reeves' row inside Cobb Grove 16 cinemas three years ago.

Charles Cummings, one row down from Reeves, heard the popcorn comment, too. So did Derek Friedhoff, a few rows down. He said it was prefaced by "show you" or "teach you."

A surveillance video from the theater had captured Oulson's arm grabbing Reeves' bag of popcorn and tossing it at him right before the fatal shot, after a clash over use of a cellphone.

The timing of the statement attributed to Reeves — whether it was uttered before, during or after the muzzle flash — became a point of interest when defense attorneys questioned the three, who were among final witnesses to testify during Reeves' two-week-long "stand your ground" hearing, which ends today.

Reeves made the comment "almost simultaneously with the gunshot, quite frankly," Turner said. It sounded to him like a "declaratory question," he said: "Throw popcorn in my face."

Reeves, 74, is trying to have the case against him dismissed under a controversial Florida law that 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.

The former Tampa police captain is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle will decide whether the case goes to trial.

A fourth theater patron, Jane Roy, was also seated down the row from Reeves. She said he brushed past her when he left the theater to complain that Oulson was using a cell phone during movie previews.

"You could tell he was agitated," she said of Reeves. "He was mumbling and he was very brusk."

Roy said she feared Reeves was about to start a fight.

"I knew that Mr. Reeves was a very big man, and he frightened me," she said.

Reeves was 6-foot-1 and 270 pounds, according to his arrest affidavit. Oulson was 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, according to his autopsy report.

After he was shot, Oulson staggered down his row. He collapsed near Cummings, who recalled hearing him say, "I can't believe he shot me."

Friedhoff, a nurse, tried to administer first-aid. When he shined a light in Oulson's eyes, the pupils were dilated, a sign the brain was shutting down, he testified.

Prosecutors played audio recordings of two interviews Reeves gave with detectives as he sat in the back of a sheriff's car behind the theater.

Almost from the beginning he expressed regrets. As soon as he pulled the trigger, he said, he realized it was "stupid."

But he said he was scared, more frightened than he had ever been as a cop, afraid he would be beaten. Had he been 20 years younger, he would have wrestled it out, he said.

Everything happened so fast.

"If I had it to do over again, it would never have happened," he said. "We would have moved. But you don't get do-overs."

He reported that Oulson hit him in the face with something.

He said he was leaning all the way back in his chair and Oulson was almost on top of him.

"I was pretty confident after getting hit one time that it wasn't going to stop," he said.

He chatted with the detective about his background as a former Tampa police officer. He said he has counseled officers on the use of deadly force.

"What I tell people is even if you're 1,000 percent right and the other person is 1,000 percent wrong, it's still not a healthy thing to get involved with," he said.

Later, in a second interview, Proctor told Reeves that Oulson had died.

"We talked to everyone involved and nobody sees a punch being thrown and he's dead," the detective said.

Reeves swore at the news.

"I don't know what to say," he said. He talked about the lives that had just been ruined.

Proctor then told Reeves he was going to arrest him on a murder charge.

The state and defense will each present closing arguments in the stand-your-ground hearing today.

The judge said Thursday she will enter a written ruling in the case no later than March 10. Her announcement came after Reeves' defense asked for two weeks to prepare a memorandum summarizing their arguments for why Reeves should be immune from prosecution.

The request for two weeks seemed to irritate the judge.

"I've got it. I've been sitting here. This is it. This is our time," Barthle said. "I'm well aware of the case law, I've done these hearings many times before. I'm not interested in a lengthy memorandum."

The judge said she would prefer to rule immediately but would take time to prepare an order.

"I'm not going to take another six months to do this," she said.

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

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