Soap Box:  Florida Theater Shooting

March 1, 2017

On January 13, 2014, Curtis Reeves, a 71 year old retired cop, went to a Wesley Chapel, Florida movie theater to watch the movie Lone Survivor with his wife.  Also at the movies was 43 year old Chad Oulson, with his wife.  The Oulsons were seated in front of the Reeves.  Upset that Oulson was texting on his phone, Reeves had words with him.  Reeves left to inform the management of the theater that Oulson was texting.  When he returned, he again had words with Oulson over the texting.  The movie previews were playing at this time.  Oulson stood up, grabbed the popcorn from Reeves hand, and tossed it back at him.  Reeves responded by shooting Oulson dead.  Oulsonís wife was also hit in the hand by the round fired by Reeves.  Reeves has been charged with 2nd Degree murder and is claiming self-defense.  Heís also invoking Floridaís stand your ground law which requires no retreat.  Should a judge agree that Reeves has a valid stand your ground case, Reeves would be immune from prosecution and go free.

The question is, was this a valid self-defense shooting?  By examining the events and evidence shown thus far, it does not appear to be a valid self-defense shooting.  Letís look at both men involved.

Oulson was texting in the theater which is against the theater rules, and considered rude by most people.  Oulsonís wife claims he was texting their babysitter.  When asked by Reeves to stop texting, Oulson got angry and argued.  When Reeves reported Oulson to management, and informed Oulson of this, it seems that Oulson got even more upset.  He was so upset, that he grabbed Reeves popcorn and tossed it back at him.  Without any other consideration, this would seem to be a case of simple assault.  Oulson clearly was aggressive in arguing with Reeves, and certainly rude in not stepping out to text.  And of course the grabbing of the popcorn is a big no-no.   The prosecution is claiming that Reeves is the actual aggressor because he initiated the argument, and started it again after returning from talking to management.  Even so, Oulson would still probably be guilty of simple assault.

Reeves clearly has a problem with people texting in the theater.  He not only initiated the argument with Oulson, but involved management, and started the arguing again when he returned.  Thereís testimony that he yelled at two other couples three weeks earlier over texting in the same theater, and even followed one women to the bathroom to intimidate her.   So even if Oulson was angry and upset about being told not to text, it seems Reeves was just as angry and upset over Oulson texting.  And given Reeves is a former cop, heís probably not use to people talking back at him (though that's speculation on my part).

So letís look at the reasons Reeves claims he shot Oulson.  Reeves has testified that it was a "life-or-death struggle."  He said that Oulson hit him over his left eye and knocked his glasses to the side of his head.  He said he was hit in the face.  He said he was dazed.  Reeves claimed that Oulson reached for him.  He said he leaned back as far as he could to create distance between him and Oulson.  He said Oulson was coming over the seat at him, so he shot him.  Are there any witnesses to corroborate this?  Well Reeveís wife claims that it seemed that Oulson was climbing over the seats to get her husband.

The problem with the testimony of Reeves and his wife is that it contradicts what other witnesses saw, and it contradicts what we can see in a theater surveillance video, which captures a small portion of what happen.  Other witnesses donít describe Oulson as reaching for, or going over the seat for Reeves.  They only describe the arguing, the mentioning of texting the babysitter, the throwing of the popcorn, and the pistol shot.

The video however, while limited, gives a better picture of the physical action of the encounter.  Unfortunately the video is very grainy, and Oulson is just out of frame to the right, but it does capture Reeves actions, and we can see the arm of Oulson.  We can see that Reeves leans forward a couple of times to engage Oulson.  Clearly Reeves doesnít fear this kind of confrontation.   And he's not trying to get away from Oulson.  On the contrary, he's engaging him.  We see Oulson grab Reevesí popcorn, and toss it back at him.  We donít see Oulson coming over the seat.  And we donít see Reeves leaning back, trying to get away from Oulson, which further implies that Oulson wasnít coming over the seat.  In fact, we see Reeves actually move FORWARD and TOWARD Oulson, and immediately shoot him after the popcorn is tossed.

Conclusions?  Reeves doesnít seem to fear for his life or great bodily harm.  He seems very angry at the texting.  Reeve's testimony contradicts what's shown in the video.  Oulson didnít hit Reeves or try to climb over the seat.  He had words with Reeves, and grabbed his popcorn and tossed it back.  The video seems to show Reeves moving toward Oulson and shooting him in anger instead of self-defense.  No reasonable person would fear for their lives or great bodily harm from what was seen in that video, and from what weíve heard from other witnesses.  The 2nd degree murder charge seems very appropriate.

Lessons?  First of all, Oulson did everything wrong.  First he was texting in the movies when every normal person knows thatís rude.  The theater even tells you on the screen not to use your phone!  The when another movie patron asks him to turn it off, instead of being nice and reasonable, he blows up and argues.  Reeves said Oulson was cursing and I havenít heard anyone dispute that.  So it seems like Oulson wasnít a nice or considerate person.  But Oulsonís fatal flaw was arguing with a complete stranger.  Never argue with strangers because you donít know what they may do.  Oulson didnít live to learn from his mistakes.

Reeves also did things wrong.  He also got into an argument with a stranger.  And while in a normal, civil society, we should be able to ask someone to correct their bad behavior, precedence has shown thatís not a good idea because our society has fallen from civility.  Plus thereís testimony that Reeves wasnít very nice in his asking in the first place.  That, combined with testimony about Reeves yelling at other patrons before seems to paint Reeves as not a nice or considerate person either.   From the video, we can see tons of empty seats all around the Reeves.  If he was so bothered by the texting, why not move over a couple of seats instead of trying to impose his will on someone else?  Also, if you take on the responsibility of carrying a firearm, you should avoid trouble at all costs.  No arguing with people, no giving people a piece of your mind, no nothing!  You want to avoid being put into a possible situation of having to defend yourself with your firearm.  Even if you are in the right, society might not see it that way.   The last thing you want to face is an unethical District Attorney trying to put another conviction notch on his belt and/or an absolutely ignorant jury thatís swayed by courtroom theatrics.  Lastly, Reeves used deadly force in a situation that did not call for it.  Deadly force is reserved for when you truly fear for your life or great bodily harm.  Getting bopped in the nose doesnít cut it.  Getting slapped doesnít cut it.  While assault might be scary, it generally isnít serious enough to legally justify deadly force.  And of course, having a box of popcorn tossed at you certainly doesnít justify the use of deadly force.

I will say that in reading online forums, I am totally shocked by the number of people that support Reeves shooting Oulson.  They cite how bad a person Oulson is.  How rude he was.  How he argued with an old man.  How he grabbed popcorn from an old man.  How ignorant are these people in that they think ANY of this justifies deadly force?!  You don't kill people over tossed popcorn!  I consider the mentality of these Reeves supporters as a threat to our 2nd Amendment rights.  This is not what responsible gun ownership is about.

Jeff Polston

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