Judge Rejects Stand Your Ground Claims of Florida Man Who Killed Man Over Cell Phone in Movie Theater
The judge held that surveillance video contradicted Curtis Reeves' version of events
A judge ruled Friday that Curtis Reeves, the Florida man accused of killing a man in a movie theater during a dispute over texting in 2014, will be tried for second-degree murder and aggravated battery, PEOPLE confirms.
The 74-year-old retired police captain’s Stand Your Ground defense was shot down by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle after weeks of testimony, according to court records. The controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law – which was passed in 2005 – allows Florida residents to use deadly force rather than retreat if they believe they are in imminent danger of bodily harm or death.
On Jan. 13, 2014, Reeves allegedly shot 43-year-old Chad Oulson in the chest during a screening of Lone Survivor after Oulson refused to put his cell phone away.
Reeves pleaded not guilty to both counts – he is facing the aggravated battery charge because the the bullet that struck and killed Oulson also hit his wife in the hand – and faces a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted.
In her ruling, Barthle wrote that physical evidence — including surveillance video — contradicted Reeves’ version of events, and that he had failed to demonstrate that he shouldn’t be prosecuted, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE.
“In addition to the video evidence and testimony that directly contradicted the defendant’s testimony, other facts tended to show that he was not in fear of great bodily harm or death,” Barthle wrote.
Judge Rejects Claim of ‘Life or Death Struggle’
Speaking out publicly for the first time since the incident, Reeves testified on Feb. 28 that he felt he was in a “life-or-death struggle” after Oulson allegedly screamed obscenities at him from the row in front of him at the theater, reported the Tampa Bay Times.
During his six hour testimony, Reeves alleged that he was sitting with his wife, Vivian, just one row behind Oulson and his wife, Nicole. He claimed that as the movie previews started, he leaned forward and asked Oulson to put away his cellphone, but Oulson only responded by cursing at him, reported WFLA.
After Oulson allegedly continued to text, Reeves claimed he told the man he was going to get a manager. Oulsen allegedly responded, “I don’t give a f— what you do.”
Reeves left the theater to speak with a manager, and upon his return to the theater claimed he made a “goodwill gesture” toward Oulson, who had then allegedly put his phone away, by saying, “Sorry I involved theater management.” Reeves alleged that Oulsen then stood up, and threw his cell phone at his face, hitting him by the eye.
Afraid to stand up, Reeves – who has a concealed carry permit and a federal firearms license – said that he thought that Oulson was going to punch him so he reached for his gun. Moments before, Oulson dumped Reeves’ bag of popcorn on him – a moment caught on security footage.
“I realized I was in a life-or-death struggle. He was no longer a loudmouth. He was now a very definite threat,” Reeves claimed, said CBS.
Vivian Reeves further testified that she thought Oulson was going to climb over the seat into their row. She said, “It happened very quickly, and his whole upper body just came forward, and I thought that he was coming over,” reported ABC News.
But in her ruling, Barthle wrote, “Because the defendant’s testimony was significantly at odds with the physical evidence and other witness testimony, this court has considerable doubts about his credibility, and is not willing to come to the conclusion that these circumstances are those envisioned by the legislature when the ‘stand your ground’ law was enacted.”
‘That Was Not Cause to Shoot That Man’
Sumter County sheriff’s Sgt. Alan Hamilton, who was at the theater that day, off-duty, testified that he took and unloaded Reeves’ gun after the shooting, and overheard a conversation between Reeves and his wife.
Hamilton alleged that Reeves’ wife, Vivian, said “That was not cause to shoot that man.” Reeves then allegedly “pointed his finger at her and told her to shut her mouth and to not say another f—— word,” Hamilton claimed, reported the Tampa Bay Times.
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Hamilton further disputed that Oulson threw a cell phone at Reeves, and the forensic investigator who photographed him after the incident testified that Reeves’ face had no cuts on it.
The defense focused on Reeves’ 27 years with the Tampa Police Department, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Reeves was a detective in the homicide and robbery unit, and also served as a firearms instructor.
According to the Associated Press, before Reeves retired in 1993, he regularly received positive evaluations, and received letters of commendation for his gun safety training and leadership.