Judge to decide whether to release movie theater shooting video

On Jan. 13, Grove 16 security cameras recorded a shooting during an argument over cellphone text messaging.
On Jan. 13, Grove 16 security cameras recorded a shooting during an argument over cellphone text messaging.
Published Feb. 4, 2014

WESLEY CHAPEL — What actually happened just before and after Chad Oulson was fatally shot inside the Grove 16 Theatres?

So far, the only public account is what has been provided by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and a couple of witnesses who left in blood-spattered clothes.

But security video from the theater gives details of the unfolding violence in Auditorium 10 on Jan. 13, including footage of Oulson being shot in the chest.

That's what concerns prosecutors, who planned to play excerpts during a bail hearing Wednesday for Curtis Reeves Jr., the retired Tampa police captain charged with second-degree murder in Oulson's death during an argument over Oulson's cellphone text messaging.

A 2011 state law makes it a third-degree felony to release video, photos or recordings depicting "the death of any human being."

So prosecutors have asked a judge to decide whether the law allows them to give Reeves, as well as the Tampa Bay Times and other media outlets that have filed public records requests, access to the video. A hearing on that issue is scheduled for 11 a.m. today before Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa

"The state intends to play excerpts of the videos to this court at the hearing on Feb. 5 and may wish to let them play at other relevant hearings and trial," according to a motion filed Monday.

Florida law says that once case material has been given to the defendant, it becomes a public record and must be released.

However, the exemption allows only the designated next of kin to view videos or images of a death and decide whether to have them released. The exemption isn't clear how that is to be applied in criminal proceedings and has not been decided by an appellate court.

Prosecutors want Siracusa to answer three questions: whether to show the video to Reeves, whether to let the video be played in open court Wednesday or have a judge view it privately, and whether the video becomes public record once turned over to the defense.

Reeves' attorney, Richard Escobar, declined to comment.

TJ Grimaldi, a Tampa attorney representing Oulson's wife, Nicole, said they have no problem letting Reeves' team see the video. As to whether it should made public, "she will likely want to view it first."

The law, created in the wake of the shooting deaths of Tampa police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, seeks to weigh concerns for grieving families against the public's right to know. A video of the officers' shooting, captured on a police cruiser's dashboard camera, was not publicly released. It was played, however, for a jury that in November convicted Dontae Morris of their murders.