Florida man who shot theatergoer for texting to invoke 'stand your ground'

Curtis Reeves' lawyer says he plans to use Florida's 'stand your ground' self-defense law in the trial of his client, who was accused of shooting a fellow moviegoer in 2014 for texting and throwing popcorn in his face.  

Brendan Fitterer, Tampa Bay Times / AP
Former Tampa Police captain Curtis Reeves Jr. (c.), sits beside his defense attorneys Richard Escobar (r.), and Dino Michaels as they listen to his taped interview by detectives during his bond reduction hearing before Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City, Feb. 7, 2014. Mr. Reeves is suspected of fatally shooting Chad Oulson and wounding his wife, Nicole, during an argument Jan. 13 over texting at the Cobb Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

The lawyer for Curtis Reeves, a retired police captain who fatally shot a fellow moviegoer in 2014, is planning to use Florida’s “stand your ground” law to defend his client.

Mr. Reeves was arrested for the fatal shooting of Chad Oulson in January 2014. Police say Mr. Oulson threw his bag of popcorn in Reeves' face after the former captain criticized him for texting. Reeves responded by pulling out his gun and shooting Oulson in the chest, according to law enforcement. A bullet also grazed Oulson's wife, Nicole.

“I think we have a pretty solid stand your ground case,” Richard Escobar, Reeves’ attorney, told the Tampa Bay Times. Escobar plans to utilize a video taken at the scene to prove Reeves acted lawfully under Florida’s self-defense law and ultimately have the criminal charges dismissed. A five-day hearing is scheduled to begin on Jan. 25.

With strong support from the National Rifle Association in 2005, the "gunshine state" became the first to pass a ‘stand your ground’ law that allows citizens to use deadly force if they fear their own harm or death. Under Florida’s "stand your ground" law, “a defendant must be able to show that he had a ‘reasonable belief’ in a threat before using deadly force, not that the threat actually existed,” explains the Tampa Bay Times. If the judge determines the defendant had "reasonable belief" for using deadly force, the shooter is “immune from criminal prosecution and civil action.”

The "stand your ground" defense became famous after George Zimmerman’s Stanford shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in 2012. Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted of Martin’s murder, leading many to question the respectability of Florida’s law.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported after the shooting, Reeves’ case highlights several ongoing debates about loose gun laws in this country. Reeves’ was justified in having a firearm because the state allows concealed guns in movie theaters and retired police offers are permitted to carry a gun without a license. And if the ‘stand your ground’ defense is found plausible, Reeves’ will also be justified in his shooting of Chad Oulson.

“To be sure, the mixture of texting, popcorn, and guns that led to Oulson’s death is being seen by some as a poignant commentary on shifting social expectations in public places, in the wake of liberalized gun laws that have turned America into ‘virtually a fully armed society,’ ” as George Washington University law professor Bob Cottrol told The Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson.

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