Theater shooting witnesses say popcorn flew and gun went off

Former Tampa Police captain Curtis Reeves, Jr., holds back tears as he listens to his daughter Jennifer Shaw testify in his bond reduction hearing before Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City Wednesday.
Former Tampa Police captain Curtis Reeves, Jr., holds back tears as he listens to his daughter Jennifer Shaw testify in his bond reduction hearing before Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City Wednesday.
Published Feb. 6, 2014

DADE CITY — In the dark of the theater, Alan Hamilton saw the kernels fly. Then, the muzzle flash and a loud bang.

"I'll teach you to throw popcorn at me," an eyewitness recalled the shooter, retired Tampa police Capt. Curtis Reeves, saying.

Hamilton, an off-duty Sumter County sheriff's deputy who was sitting on the same row as Reeves, moved in.

"I head in that direction and I found Mr. Reeves sitting in his chair," Hamilton said during Reeves' bail hearing Wednesday. "I reached down and there was a weapon on his left knee." The weapon, a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol, Hamilton said, was still warm.

It was Jan. 13, and Hamilton cleared the gun and told Reeves, 71, to stay put. Reeves, he said, pushed his glasses back on his head and said, "I can't believe what I've done."

The man he shot, Chad Oulson, 43, said, "I can't believe this." He lay dying in the aisle of the theater, according to testimony. The movie, Lone Survivor, never started. A nurse named Derek Friedhoff took off his shirt and pressed it against Oulson's entry wound. He started chest compressions and asked for a light to shine in Oulson's pupils. Oulson didn't respond.

In the following moments, Hamilton said, Reeves' wife, Vivian, asked her husband why he had to fire, saying "that was no cause to shoot anyone."

Reeves leaned back and stuck his finger at his wife and said "you shut your f------ mouth and don't say another word," Hamilton testified.

Those words drew gasps in the courtroom Wednesday.

The dramatic testimony provided the first detailed account of what happened inside the Cobb Grove 16 theater. The shooting, which officials said occurred because Reeves was upset that Oulson was texting in the theater, has drawn nationwide attention.

Attorneys for Reeves, who faces charges of second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, argued that he should be released on bail prior to trial.

Prosecutors argued that Reeves should remain behind bars.

After eight hours of testimony, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa recessed the hearing. It will continue Friday. Testimony will include the airing of a surveillance video from the theater.

On Wednesday, dozens of Reeves' friends and family members were in the courtroom. They huddled in prayer in the lobby before it started.

Much of the testimony centered on the argument between Oulson and Reeves. Hamilton said Oulson turned around and cursed at Reeves and said, "I'm trying to text my f------ daughter if you don't mind."

There was only a 3- to 5-second pause between the popcorn and the gunfire, Hamilton said.

Reeves' attorneys called witnesses who worked with Reeves at the Tampa Police Department and at Busch Gardens, where he directed security after retirement. They also called his daughter, Jennifer Shaw, to talk about his character.

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Tears ran down Reeves' face as Shaw described him as a strict but compassionate father. She said he spanked his kids but never in anger.

She said her dad often took her to the movies, and she never saw him make a scene.

When Shaw's daughter was born, Reeves took care of her when Shaw returned to work. When her husband told her he wanted a divorce, "the first person I called was my dad," said Shaw, who choked back tears. Shaw said her father offered to help, and she moved in with her parents.

Shaw said her dad also cared for his 94-year-old mother as well as his wife, who suffers from a host of health problems.

Reeves also was dealing with his own health problems, which included bursitis. He also had "floaters" that sometimes obscured his vision.

The registered nurse, Derek Friedhoff, who sat about 5 to 6 feet from Chad Oulson in the theater, testified that he heard bickering during the previews. As the conflict escalated, he said he saw Oulson's silhouette standing. He heard something being thrown and he heard Reeves say, "something along the lines of 'I'll teach you or I'll show you to throw popcorn at me' followed by a gunshot."

At first, Friedhoff said he thought it was a warning shot because Oulson continued to stand for a moment. When he collapsed, he rushed over.

As he detailed Oulson's bleeding on the theater floor, Nicole Oulson, the dead man's wife, wiped away tears as she sat in the front row. She was with her husband that day and was injured when the bullet struck her finger.

Friedhoff said the theater was fairly calm, with the only reactions coming from those directly affected.

"It wasn't mass hysteria," he said.

Friedhoff worked on Oulson until paramedics arrived.

"I just did something I was trained to do and take care of," he said.

The testimony Friday will include more witnesses, but the highlight could be the surveillance tape.

Reeves' attorneys had asked Siracusa to not play the tape in open court, but the judge refused.

Siracusa said "democracy is fostered" when proceedings are open. Closing court, he said, "only fuels speculation about what is on it."

However, the judge did agree to seal all evidence in court files for 30 days so that defense attorneys can review it. Escobar had asked for a 60-day delay, saying immediate release would keep his client from getting a fair trial.

"There has to be a procedure to do this in a responsible way," Escobar said. "To just get it out today in bulk form is way too dangerous."

Siracusa's granting of the delay came over the objections of attorneys for media organizations, who argued that the availability of information would mean less public speculation, not more. They also said that even in higher profile cases, such as Casey Anthony, there was no blanket sealing of files and that an impartial jury could still be found.

"Those types of arguments in a county as large as Pasco County is extremely unlikely," said Anne H. Arsenault, an attorney for the Tampa Bay Times. "Just because a case has attracted media attention doesn't mean you can't find an impartial jury."