The sheriff who’s investigating the fatal shooting of a moviegoer this week in Florida said the state’s “stand your ground” defense doesn’t apply in this case, but an attorney said it likely does.
"What most people don't understand is, the law is not concerned with what started your argument; the law is not concerned about how petty it is," attorney Stephen Romine told First Coast News. "The law is concerned about the acts between two people -- the person who died and the person who did the shooting."
Retired police captain Curtis Reeves was charged with second-degree murder after he shot 43-year-old Chad Oulson to death Monday afternoon because he refused to stop sending a text message to his 2-year-old daughter’s day care provider.
Reeves told investigators that he feared for his safety when he was struck in the face with an object that investigators determined was popcorn, but his attorney suggested may have been a more dangerous object.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco dismissed that claim, saying there was no evidence of another object – and besides, the 71-year-old Reeves could have just found another seat.
“It was an empty movie theatre,” Nocco told the Daily Mail. “If he was scared, why didn’t he move seats?”
The sheriff said all the detectives at the scene Monday agreed that the state’s controversial self-defense law did not apply in this case.
“From our investigation, it seems simply that the agitation of someone using their cell phone to text has caused this,” Nocco said. “The suspect was sitting there, they had an argument about texting, the victim turned around, threw something, a shot is fired and the next thing you know a man is dead.”
But Romine, who is not representing Reeves but has tried many high-profile cases, said the state’s law focuses on one thing: Did the retired officer believe that he was in danger?
If so, Romine said, he had the right to use deadly force to defend himself – even if the weapon was popcorn.
Under the state law, a person has the right to use deadly force if he fears death or great bodily harm, even when retreat is possible.
The attorney said the reason the two men fought doesn’t matter under the statute, because all that matters is whether Reeves believed Oulson would hurt him.
Under Florida law, he added, it’s considered a felony offense to strike a person over 65 years old with something as small as a marshmallow.
Reeves and his wife, Vivian, were seated behind Oulson and his wife, Nicole, during a matinee screening of “Lone Survivor” at a Wesley Chapel movie theater when the retired cop asked the younger man to stop using his phone.
Investigators said Reeves went to get a manager but came back alone and continued his dispute with Oulson.
“We believe the manager didn’t have a full conversation with the individual because he was dealing with other customers,” Nocco said. “But the fact the suspect had the ability to go and see the manager shows he had the ability to move his seat.”
After the argument resumed, Oulson threw a bag of popcorn that struck Reeves in the face, and he drew a pistol and fired one shot at the younger man.
Oulson’s wife tried to shield her husband, but the bullet passed through her outstretched hand and struck her husband in the chest.
Authorities said Reeves then calmly sat down and placed the gun on his thigh before he was restrained by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy.
“It was jammed when he put it down on his thigh,” Nocco said. “I can’t tell you if he was trying to shoot again, or what he was doing. We will look at the gun to see what happened In the future, but that isn’t relevant to the second-degree murder charge at present.”
A judge denied bond for Reeves, who retired from the Tampa police department in 1993.
His attorney said Reeves was “heartbroken” that a life was lost in the shooting.
Watch this video report posted online by First Coast News: