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Curtis Reeves trial: Defendant’s son, daughter take stand on Day 5 of testimony

Reeves’ daughter, Jennifer Shaw, took the stand Friday, then the court heard from her brother Matthew, a Tampa police officer. He’ll resume his testimony Monday.
 
Matthew Reeves, right, tells a jury that he went to the aid of Chad Oulson after Oulson was shot by his father, Curtis Reeves, at left, while giving testimony during Reeves’ second-degree murder trial Friday at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City.
Matthew Reeves, right, tells a jury that he went to the aid of Chad Oulson after Oulson was shot by his father, Curtis Reeves, at left, while giving testimony during Reeves’ second-degree murder trial Friday at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 18, 2022|Updated Feb. 19, 2022

DADE CITY — Jennifer Shaw choked back tears as she told a Pasco County courtroom about her dad on Friday afternoon.

She spoke fondly of childhood camping trips spent kayaking down raging rivers, hiking forest trails and fishing with her brother, her mom and her father — retired Tampa police Capt. Curtis Reeves.

It was her dad who taught her how to shoot a gun. And she couldn’t have found a better teacher, the family said. Reeves trained fellow officers with the Tampa Police Department as a “firearms coordinator” and was in the agency’s competitive Pistol Club. He was trained at the U.S. Army’s sniper school, finishing second in a class of 20, and was an avid archer with a passion for collecting bows and arrows.

But on Jan. 13, 2014, she says it was an older, more vulnerable and frightened Reeves who shot and killed a man inside a Wesley Chapel movie theater as the man continued scrolling on his cellphone during the film’s previews. From the beginning, his family and lawyers have argued that Reeves killed 43-year-old Chad Oulson in self-defense. Oulson was the aggressor, prompting Reeves to shoot after he first hit him in the face with either a fist, an iPhone or — according to every witness who has testified so far — popcorn from Reeves’ own bag of the movie favorite.

Those arguments weren’t enough to secure immunity under Florida’s “stand your ground” law back in 2017. So now, more than eight years later, the 79-year-old is standing trial for aggravated battery and second-degree murder.

His children took the stand on the fifth day of testimony, after prosecutors spent four days laying out their case against Reeves, with multiple eyewitnesses to the shooting, investigators, and the county medical examiner all taking the stand. It was a contentious, fraught week full of objections and sidebar mediations with Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle. But on Day 5, it was the defense team’s turn to take over the witness stand.

Reeves’ defense team lauded his son Matthew, now a Tampa police officer himself, for being the first one to come to Chad Oulson’s aid the day Oulson was shot by his father. Matthew was running late to meet his parents inside Theater 10 of the Grove 16 theater — then called The Cobb Theater. He walked inside while the previews were playing, but it was pitch black, he said — too dark to find where his parents were sitting. When the preview for the Robocop remake came on, Matthew Reeves decided to stand near the entrance and watch it. But then he recognized his father’s voice in the dark. He sounded alarmed, and said either “get out of my face” or “get off of me,” Matthew Reeves said. Then there was a bang and a flash that revealed the silhouette of another man standing in front of his dad, staggering away in “large, exaggerated steps down.”

Instead of running to his father, Matthew Reeves ran to Chad Oulson, the defense attorneys said. He assessed the wound, applied pressure and ensured Oulson was still breathing before letting a registered nurse by his side take over.

Then, he went to his parents — his mother, who was shaking and seemed in shock, and his father, 71 at the time, who was seated, with his glasses crooked on his face, staring at the screen, Matthew Reeves said.

His parents seemed fragile and shaken, he said, echoing the tearful account his sister — now a vice president for J.P. Morgan Chase — told the court earlier in the day.

Following her divorce from another police officer, Shaw said she moved back into her parents’ sprawling home in Brooksville. It opened her eyes to the toll time had taken on their bodies, she said.

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“It felt like every week I was coming home to somebody injured or having a bandage on them,” Shaw said.

Their skin had become as thin as tissue, she said, and “just bumping an arm on the counter would cause it to kind of wrinkle up, bruise and bleed.” Sometimes her father had trouble getting out of chairs and would have to hoist himself up, then catch his balance before he could walk away.

He rarely played on the floor with his granddaughter anymore because he wouldn’t be able to get back up. Sometimes, his fingers and hands would suddenly freeze up, Shaw said. She didn’t know what caused it, she said, “it’s just a harsh reality of growing older.”

But state prosecutors were quick to jump on the children’s’ characterization of their feeble father.

“Did you ever see the video of the shooting? Did you see how fast he moved when he pulled the gun out of his pocket and lunged forward?” assistant state attorney Scott Rosenwasser asked.

It was a difficult question for Shaw to answer. So were the many more that followed.

“You indicated your father is slow, has arthritis and difficulties with his hands and fingers,” Rossenwasser said. “Do you think it’s a good idea for someone who has those issues with their hands to carry around a loaded weapon?”

Then there was the “old man hands” and “tissue-thin” skin she spoke of. If Reeves bruised so easily, why was it so difficult for first responders to locate any injuries after he said he was attacked by Oulson?

Prosecutors had more questions — about the quality of his vision, if he’s still an avid archer and about a camping trip Curtis Reeves and his son took just days before the fatal shooting. They were in the Panhandle, hunting deer and wild hogs by bow and arrow — sometimes from a 10-foot tree stand, prosecutors remarked.

Many of those questions still hang over Reeves’ case, as multiple objections and sidebar conversations between attorneys led Judge Barthle to dismiss the jury early Friday afternoon. The hearing will resume Monday at 8:30 a.m. with Matthew Reeves on the stand. The court anticipates it will be another three weeks before the 6-person jury will be asked to decide Reeves’ fate.

Jennifer Shaw, the daughter of Curtis Reeves, glances at her father while taking the stand to testify during Reeves’ second-degree murder trial Friday at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City. Shaw was not in the theater at the time of the shooting.
Jennifer Shaw, the daughter of Curtis Reeves, glances at her father while taking the stand to testify during Reeves’ second-degree murder trial Friday at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City. Shaw was not in the theater at the time of the shooting. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Catch up on Thursday’s testimony here. The testimony Wednesday can be found here, Tuesday here, and Monday here. Read the full background on the case here.

Our reporter, Anastasia Dawson, is in the courtroom and is providing live coverage, which you can follow below.