A retired Tampa police captain who gunned down a 43-year-old father after confronting the man over texting in a movie theater was cleared of second-degree murder and aggravated battery charges Friday night.
A jury declined to convict Curtis Reeves, 79, who in 2014 fatally shot Chad Oulson, 43, during the argument over the dad messaging his babysitter on his phone during the movie previews.
The disagreement escalated and Oulson threw his popcorn at Reeves who shot him in the chest inside the Grove 16 movie theater in Wesley Chapel, a suburb of Tampa.
After the jury decision on Friday, Reeves smiled and joked with the press as he stopped for interviews outside the courthouse.
He also expressed regret for killing Oulson.
After the jury decision on Friday, Reeves smiled and joked with the press as he stopped for interviews outside the court house. He expressed regret for the death
Defense lawyer Dino Martin (pictured here) told the jury that Reeves is an frail, elderly man who feared for his safety
‘It was a sad day for everybody on both sides,’ he said. ‘It never should have happened. I never wanted it to happen.’
Nicole Oulson, the victim’s wife, who was also shot in the finger but survived, wept after the jury’s verdict.
Her stunned family slowly left the Dade County courthouse in the dark and hugged in the parking lot.
Chad Oulson, 43, with his daughter and wife, Nicole, was shot during an argument over texting during previews in a movie theater
PICTURED: The aftermath of a shooting at the Grove 16 movie theater where Chad Oulson was shot and killed on Janaury 13, 2014, following an argument with 71-year-old Reeves
‘I don’t understand. I don’t understand’ family members said as they wept and hugged in the parking lot outside the courthouse.
Reeves, who claimed that he feared that Oulson would ‘beat the crap out’ of him, said he was glad his eight-year ordeal was over.
‘It was trying, not just for me, but for my family,’ he said. ‘It was a tough time for all of us with the restrictions and all the things that went on over the years. It was very difficult to deal with.’
But Reeves has something to look forward to on Saturday.
‘I’m going to my daughter’s wedding,’ he said. ‘That’s the plan.’
Reeves told family members that he was confident that he would be acquitted of second-degree murder and aggravated assault
Aftermath: This photo released by the attorney’s office shows Curtis Reeves handcuffed in the movie theater where he shot Chad Oulson in 2014
The trial of retired Florida cop Curtis Reeves (pictured in court in 2014) began on Monday
The retired Florida captain was 71 years old at the time of the killing when he cross paths with Oulson, who was on a date matinee with his wife, in the theater.
Reeves told Oulson to put away his phone as the movie Lone Survivor started, but he claims Oulson flipped out and and started yelling in his face.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody get in my face like that and it scared the crap out of me,’ he’s heard telling detectives in a recorded 2014 interview.
Fearing what Oulson would do to him, Reeves pulled his . 380 handgun from his right front pocket and shot through Nicole Oulson’s ring finger into her husband’s chest, piercing his rib, his heart and his lung.
‘I thought the guy was going to beat the hell out of me,’ Reeves replies. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody get in my face like that and it scared the crap out of me.’
‘I felt like my hand was blown off,’ Nicole Oulson said, regarding the bullet that struck her and her husband. ‘He took a couple of steps and then collapsed. I knew he was way worse than me’
Pictured: Chad Oulson and his daughter in an undated photo before he was shot and killed at a movie theater in 2014
‘This isn’t about popcorn,’ Defense attorney Dino Michaels (pictured) told the jury. ‘You’re going to see there was an attack before the popcorn was thrown’
One witness, Sumter County Deputy Alan Hamilton, testified on Tuesday that he heard Oulsen tell Reeves ‘I was just texting my f**cking daughter’. Then he flicked popcorn at the retired cop just before a gunshot rang out.
But investigators told Reeves they had questioned everyone in the theater and no one had heard Oulson threaten Reeves, which made him start to second guess what happened that night.
‘I’m sitting back here second-guessing myself,’ he told the detective in the interview after the shooting. ‘I got hit in the left side of my face and temple, got my glasses knocked off. There was nobody else there, man. There was nobody else there.’
During his interview in 2014, detectives gave him the bad news. The man he shot was dead, and Reeves’ life was forever changed.
Vivian Reeves leaves court with her husband Curtis Reeves at the end of testimony on Monday
‘I don’t know what to say, except this is a life-changing event that I would have avoided at all costs,’ Reeves said. ‘My life is ruined. My family’s life is ruined, his family’s life is ruined.’
Reeves is a U.S. Navy veteran and former Tampa police captain who helped launch and lead the agency’s first SWAT team before retiring in 1993, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
He later worked as director of security for the Tampa Busch Gardens amusement park and was an active member of his neighborhood’s Crime Stoppers organization.
Nicole Oulson, testified on Monday about what it was like to watch her husband die.
‘I see his eyes were just glazed over and I knew at that moment,’ she said. ‘I told him, ‘Chad, we need you, please hang in there, we need you.’
According to Nicole Oulson, the two men bickered over the cellphone dispute and at one point her husband stood up, causing her to put her left hand near his chest to guide him back to his seat.
That’s when the shot was fired, she testified, nearly severing a finger.
‘I felt like my hand was blown off,’ Nicole Oulson said. ‘He took a couple of steps and then collapsed. I knew he was way worse than me.’
Nicole Oulson testified she did not hear any profanity from her husband in the exchange.
‘He said, ‘What’s your problem? The movie hasn’t even started yet,” she said, quoting her husband.
Reeves went to theater management about Oulson’s phone use, returned to his seat and that’s when the argument resumed.
Video from the scene appears to show Oulson snatching Reeves’ popcorn off his lap and throwing it at him. Reeves responds instantaneously with a single, fatal gunshot.
The case has been delayed for years as Reeves sought protection under Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law that allows use of deadly force in the face of mortal danger or fear of serious injury.
It was further pushed back by the COVID pandemic.
Reeves has been on house arrest during most of that time, tethered to a GPS-tracking ankle monitor.
A judge ruled against him, but Reeves appealed. Lawmakers meanwhile changed the law to shift the burden of proof to prosecutors, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the changes didn’t affect cases such as Reeves’ retroactively.
Prosecutors urged the jury not to buy the self-defense claim that Reeves was pushing.
‘What the evidence will show you is that Chad Oulson was shot and killed over tossing popcorn,’ Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser told jurors in an opening statement. ‘That’s no reason to kill another person.’
The defense, however, contends that Reeves, then 71, was in declining health and feared the 43-year-old, larger Oulson would punch or otherwise assault him – and may have thrown his cellphone at the older man.
‘He was 71, in declining health and a decorated officer. He had all that body of knowledge to determine whether he was in a predicament that could have led to him being harmed. At that moment, his perception was that he was in serious danger,’ defense lawyer Escobar said.
T.J. Grimaldi, who represented Oulson’s widow in a lawsuit against the cinema, said Reeves’ history as an officer, which included SWAT training make his actions inexcusable.
‘This man used to train SWAT teams, so he knows how to de-escalate a situation and he should have then,’ Grimaldi told the Times.
‘The claim that he was standing his ground is asinine, to say the least,’ he said. ‘Is there ever a good reason to shoot someone for popcorn being thrown in their face?’
Reeves was facing a potential life sentence if convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
But transcripts of jailhouse phone calls between Reeves and his family released in 2014 revealed the retired Florida police captain was confident of his acquittal.