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'Evidence of guilt is significant': Bail denied for movie shooter

Published Jan. 15, 2014

A Pasco circuit judge Tuesday denied bail to the former Tampa police officer accused of fatally shooting a man over a texting dispute, noting "the evidence of guilt is significant" in the case.

Authorities said Curtis Reeves Jr., 71, was in Auditorium 10 at the Cobb Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel when he got into an argument with Chad Oulson, 43, seated nearby, who was text­ing on his phone. The confrontation escalated suddenly, ending with Oulson dead from a gunshot to the chest and Reeves jailed on a second-degree murder charge.

New information about the shooting emerged Tuesday from a court hearing, an arrest report and a news conference held by the Pasco County sheriff.

Neither man threw a punch, according to the report. Witnesses said Oulson hurled a bag of popcorn at Reeves, who then pulled a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol from his pants pocket and fired once, the report states. The bullet struck Oulson's wife, Nicole, in the hand, which was on her husband's chest as she tried to break up the argument.

Sumter County sheriff's Cpl. Alan Hamilton was sitting five seats away and grabbed the gun from Reeves, deputies say. The two struggled for control for a few seconds before Reeves let go. The gun was jammed when Hamilton turned it over to deputies.

Reeves' wife, Vivian, was with him in the theater during the shooting. His son, Tampa police Officer Matthew Reeves, was walking in to join his father when he heard the shot and is not considered a witness.

Pasco Sgt. Steve Greiner said he found Reeves sitting in a theater seat, relaxed with his eyes toward the screen, "almost a distant stare."

In an interview with detectives, Reeves acknowledged the argument and said he feared he was being attacked. Pasco investigators believe Reeves had the gun with him when he first entered the theater, which has a ban on weapons.

Reeves walked out of the theater Monday afternoon in a white hazmat suit, his hands in front of him bound by zipties. News cameras showed him at one point walking four paces behind a deputy, otherwise unconfined.

The video prompted speculation that Reeves, who spent 27 years on the Tampa police force, had received special treatment.

"It's a big no-no to handcuff people in the front," said Lyann Goudie, a criminal defense attorney in Tampa, pointing to the 1998 case in which Hank Earl Carr was handcuffed in front, slipped his restraints and killed two Tampa officers. "But for all you and I know, (Reeves) might have some medical reason for why they did it. I have no idea."

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco stood by his deputies, citing standard operating procedure that leaves handcuffing in front of the body up to the discretion of deputies.

"There was control of him no matter what," Nocco said. "He was not going anywhere. He had no special treatment."

Nocco said he plans to review an after-action report when the investigation is finished to inspect how the case was handled.

In his first court appearance, Reeves appeared from the Pasco County jail on a video screen as his attorneys, family, church members and media packed into a Dade City courtroom. He wore what looked like a tight-fitting, sleeveless vest. Nocco would not elaborate on how Reeves was dressed, saying only that it was for his safety. Reeves spoke twice — once to say "yes, ma'am" to Judge Lynn Tepper and once to say "yes, sir" to his lawyer.

Tampa attorney Richard Escobar called the allegations against Reeves "weak," pegging Oulson as the aggressor.

Escobar said Reeves suffers from bursitis in his shoulder, as well as arthritis, respiratory issues and hypertension. He promised that if released, Reeves would attend every hearing.

"His ties to community are great and his danger to the community is nonexistent," he said.

Prosecutor Manny Garcia asked for no bail. He said eyewitnesses never saw Oulson threaten or strike Reeves.

Being struck in the face by an unknown object — as Reeves claimed — doesn't equate to firing a gun at somebody's chest, Garcia argued.

He brought up the case of Jamira Dixon, who contacted detectives after the shooting and told of a similar run-in with Reeves. On Dec. 28, she said Reeves confronted her for texting during a movie. She said he was glaring at her, and that he even followed her to the restroom.

Dixon said her husband thought of confronting Reeves, but didn't. "It could have been us," she told Bay News 9.

Reeves will remain in jail, unlike some other recent high-profile defendants. In 2010, Trevor Dooley shot David James, 41, after a confrontation on a neighborhood basketball court in Valrico. Dooley was charged with manslaughter and freed on bail. So was Riverview dentist Matthew Moye, who was charged with DUI manslaughter after striking and killing two pedestrians with his Cadillac on the Harbour Island bridge in 2010.

After the hearing, Escobar called Reeves the "best of the best" in law enforcement. He hopes to set a bail hearing next week.

"Certain circumstances will show that he is innocent," Escobar said.

Nicole Oulson was not at her home in Land O'Lakes on Tuesday afternoon, and a family member declined to comment. Chad Oulson's funeral is set for Saturday.

Times staff writer Lisa Buie contributed to this report.

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