Advertisement
  1. News

'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.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Atlantic tropical cyclones and disturbances, as of 11 a.m. Thursday. National Hurricane Center
    It is projected to pass north of Puerto Rico on Saturday and east of the southeastern Bahamas on Sunday.
  2. Police investigators say they believe the man has a history of mental of illness. Photo from video/10News WTSP
    Firefighters initially tried to climb after him, but the man just climbed higher.
  3. The Tampa City Council was told Thursday that it had little power to prevent a medical marijuana cultivation,  processing and dispensary approved for East Tampa. ANDREW SELSKY  |  AP
    Trulieve plans to open a facility near a recovery center. State preemption prevents the city from taking action.
  4. Statements made online that threaten physical harm, whether seriously intended or not, can have devastating consequences. The “It’s No Joke” awareness campaign seeks to educate youth and parents that even threats made online. Florida Department of Juvenile Justice/Facebook
    The arrests came after other students told deputies they’d been told they were on a “safe” list.
  5. In this Wednesday morning Sept. 18, 2019 photo, Detention Cpl. Shaguanta Scott, left and Detention Deputy Darryl Keaton, right, escort Michael W. Jones Jr. back to the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. Jones, suspected of killing his wife and four children and driving their bodies into Georgia, was returned to Florida to face murder charges. (Doug Engle/Star-Banner via AP)
    Investigators found the decomposed bodies of the children in woods nearby.
  6. A team of a dozen victims' rights attorneys on Wednesday filed the third lawsuit in three months against the Church of Scientology and its leader David Miscavige. The complaint states a woman was repeatedly sexually abused as a child in Scientology's care and that church policy enabled the abuse. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU  |  AFP/Getty Images
    The third lawsuit filed against Scientology and leader David Miscavige in three months accuses the church of sexual battery, racketeering and conspiracy
  7. President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in San Diego, Calif. EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    The lawsuit opens a new legal front in Trump’s long-running fight to prevent his tax returns from becoming public.
  8. Surveillance video shows suspects in an attempted robbery-turned murder at a Bradenton smoke shop. Manatee County Sheriff's Office
    One suspect is in custody and two others are wanted in connection with the Wednesday armed robbery turned murder.
  9. Jessica LaBouve, a penetration tester for cybersecurity company A-LIGN, poses for a portrait in the A-LIGN office on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019 in Tampa. Companies hire A-LIGN to figure out where their digital security weak spots are, and LaBouve is one of the "benevolent hackers" that finds them. ALLIE GOULDING  |  Times
    Jessica LaBouve of A-Lign works with companies to make their applications and platforms more secure.
  10. Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year. MARKUS SCHREIBER  |  AP
    The billionaire also talks trade with China in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement