A retired Tampa Police officer charged with fatally shooting a man during an argument over cell phone use at a Tampa-area movie theater was ordered held without bond Tuesday.
Curtis Reeves Jr., 71, made his first court appearance via a video link from jail Tuesday. He was charged with second-degree murder in the Monday shooting and only spoke once during the hearing, to say "yes, Ma'am" to Judge Lynn Tepper when she asked him if he could afford to hire his own attorney.
Two couples had been watching "Lone Survivor" at Wesley Chapel's Cobb Grove 16 Theatre at 6333 Wesley Grove Boulevard, when Reeves asked 43-year-old Chad Oulson to stop texting, according to Pasco County Sheriff's spokeswoman Melanie Snow.
Reeves asked Oulson to stop using his cell phone several times, at one point leaving the theater before returning to his seat behind Oulson, the sheriff's office said.
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Oulson asked Reeves if he reported him for using his phone to theater management. Authorities said Reeves took out a handgun and fired his weapon, striking Oulson in the chest. Oulson's wife Nichole, who put her arm over her husband after Reeves pulled out the gun, was struck in the hand.
“Their voices start going up, there seems to be almost a confrontation, somebody throws popcorn – I’m not sure who threw the popcorn – and then bang, he was shot,” witness Charles Cummings said.
According to the arrest affidavit, Oulson had thrown the popcorn at Reeves.
The judge said she found the evidence significant enough to warrant Reeves being held without bond.
Reeves' attorney, Richard Escobar, told reporters that what he called a full-blown bond hearing would hopefully be held next week.
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Escobar argued in court that his his client should be released because of his deep ties to the community.
Escobar said the probable cause document was "quite weak" and that Reeves was defending himself.
"The alleged victim attacked him," Escobar said, adding that Oulson threw something, possibly popcorn, at Reeves. "At that point in time he has every right to defend himself."
Tepper said that throwing "an unknown object does not equal taking out a gun" and shooting someone.
After the shooting, Cummings said, Chad Oulson staggered over two seats and then fell on him and his son.
The Oulson couple was taken to a Tampa-area hospital where Chad Oulson later died. His wife's injuries were not considered life-threatening.
"To have a retired police officer, I don't know what he was thinking at the time, but I can tell you that anybody, over a cell phone, over somebody texting, and to take their life, it's ridiculous,” Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said.
Oulson told Reeves that he was texting with his 3-year-old daughter, Cummings said.
The sheriff's office says an off-duty Sumter County deputy detained Reeves until police arrived.
The theater was evacuated following the shooting.
Reeves told deputies he had been struck in the face by Oulson with an unknown object and fired after he was in fear of being attacked, the affidavit said.
Outside of court, Escobar was asked how his client is doing.
“He is doing just fine. Obviously the family is very concerned, and I can tell you that Mr. Reeves is certainly heartbroken over the fact that someone’s life has been lost here, but you know we need to focus at this point in time on gathering the true evidence and bringing that forth before the court," Escobar said.
Reeves was instrumental in establishing the Tampa Police department's first Tactical Response Team. Police said they weren't aware of him having any contact with the department since he left more than 20 years ago.
Escobar asked the public to not rush to judgment.
"This individual was a decorated former law enforcement officer. I think he was even described by some of the media accounts – I believe it was today – that he was the best of the best in law enforcement. So please don’t rush to judgment," Escobar said. "Let’s hear all the evidence. Let’s listen to the witnesses, and then you all can make your decisions.”
Cobb Theatres issued a statement saying their thoughts and prayers were with the victims and their families.
"The theatre is currently closed, and we are actively working with the sheriff's office on this investigation. This was an isolated altercation between two guests that escalated unexpectedly. The safety, security and comfort of our guests and team members are always our top priorities, and we are truly heartbroken by this incident," the company said in an email statement.