Trial begins in Florida movie texter shooting

Curtis Reeves on trial eights years after fatally shooting Chad Oulsen at cinema outside Tampa during confrontation about texting

Former Tampa police captain Curtis Reeves is accused of shooting and killing Chad Oulson during an argument at a Wesley Chapel cinema in January 2014. AP
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A 79-year-old retired Florida police captain went on trial for murder on Monday, eight years after fatally shooting a man who had thrown a bag of popcorn at him during a confrontation over texting in a cinema.

Opening statements began in the trial of Curtis Reeves, who is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in the deadly 2014 encounter with Chad Oulsen in Wesley Chapel, Florida.

At issue is not whether Mr Reeves shot and killed Oulson during a showing of Lone Survivor at the cinema on January 13, 2014.

It’s whether the former cop felt threatened enough by Oulson to justify firing his .380-calibre handgun after the two argued over Oulson’s mobile phone use in the movie theatre.

Mr Reeves initially attempted to use Florida's "stand your ground" self-defence law, but a judge in 2017 determined it did not apply and the case was forced to trial.

Florida's controversial "stand your ground" rules state that deadly force is justified if a person is attacked in a place where he or she is allowed to be, not engaged in an unlawful activity and reasonably believes force is necessary to prevent death or bodily harm.

To prosecutors, the triggering event in the argument was Oulson’s tossing of a bag of popcorn at Mr Reeves — and that’s not enough to claim self-defence.

“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 defence, however, contends that Mr Reeves, then 71, was in declining health and feared the 43-year-old Oulson would punch or otherwise assault him — and may have thrown his cellphone at the older man.

Defence attorney Dino Michaels said Mr Reeves also understood risk and sensed danger from his 27 years with the Tampa Police Department.

“This isn’t about popcorn,” Mr Michaels told the jury. “You’re going to see there was an attack before the popcorn was thrown.”

The former police captain was initially held without bail, but in July 2014 was freed on $150,000 bond on the conditions he only leave his home for church, medical appointments, court and visits to the supermarket, CNN reported.

A string of factors, pretrial hearings and the Covid-19 pandemic brought years of delays to the trial.

Prosecutors said Oulsen was texting his daughter during the previews, which annoyed Mr Reeves. Oulson's wife, Nicole, said he was texting their daughter's babysitter.

Mr Reeves went to complain to a cinema employee and, when he returned, got into an argument with Oulson, resulting in the popcorn throwing.

AP contributed to this report.

Updated: February 14, 2022, 6:40 PM