Curtis Reeves trial: Jury issues not guilty verdict for retired Tampa police captain – Tampa Bay Times

Curtis Reeves trial: Jury issues not guilty verdict for retired Tampa police captain – Tampa Bay Times

DADE CITY — Eight years after he fired a pistol inside a Wesley Chapel movie theater, Curtis Reeves was found not guilty of murder in the death of Chad Oulson.

A panel of four men and two women took about 3½ hours Friday night to acquit the retired Tampa police captain, apparently heeding defense arguments that Reeves killed Oulson in self-defense.

The late-night verdict punctuated one of the Tampa Bay area’s longest-running and most closely-watched criminal cases — one that persisted through a 2017 stand your ground self-defense hearing, appeals, court delays and, finally, a three-week trial.

In the courtroom gallery, Oulson’s widow, Nicole, wept openly as the verdict was read out. She sat in her seat trembling, then immediately sped out of the courtroom with her mother and friends following behind.

Reeves’ wife, Vivian, cried tears of relief.

As the jury entered the courtroom and handed the court clerk their verdicts, Vivian Reeves grabbed a small pouch from her purse and filled her hands with tissues, seemingly preparing for the worst.

Reeves, 79, simply smiled and embraced family members and his attorneys as the jury’s decision was announced. Minutes later, he spoke briefly with reporters on the front steps of Robert Sumner Judicial Center.

“This is great,” Reeves said, smiling. “It’s been a long eight years. I couldn’t wait for it to be over with.”

He thanked his defense team, led by Tampa attorney Richard Escobar — who fought for Reeves for nearly a decade. At the same time, Reeves expressed regret for the shooting that occurred so long ago.

“It was a sad day for everybody on both sides,” Reeves said. “It never should have happened. I never wanted it to happen.”

As he climbed into his car, a free man, Escobar clasped his shoulder. Reeves’ daughter is getting married on Saturday, and now he can walk her down the aisle.

The jury spent 10 days listening to witnesses pick apart the minuteslong interaction that ended the life of Oulson, a 43-year-old father who was on a date with his wife Nicole.

They watched the same few seconds of grainy surveillance camera footage more than two dozen times during this trial — sometimes in slow motion, sometimes enhanced or lightened and sharpened in an effort to make out any usable view of the altercation that’s partially seen in the far corner of the frame.

And at 5:33 p.m. Friday, after a full day of closing arguments, objections and sidebars in Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Susan Barthle’s courtroom, the six people picked to form the jury in Curtis Reeves’ murder trial finally were asked to decide whether the then-71-year-old acted in self-defense the day he fatally shot Chad Oulson.

The long-awaited murder trial of the retired Tampa police captain ended Thursday with testimony from the man himself, now 79. As jurors listened, they occasionally turned their gaze to Reeves’ wife, his two adult children and others who have come to the courtroom day after day to show their support.

Jurors also had been able to see Nicole Oulson, the widow of the man Reeves shot dead during an argument over Chad Oulson scrolling on his cellphone when the previews started to play at the Grove 16 Theater, then called the Cobb theater, during a matinee showing of Lone Survivor on Jan. 13, 2014.

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The jury’s verdict punctuated the unusually long-running case, which a state attorney called an “embarrassment to the criminal justice system.” The Reeves case lingered in court for years, partly due to the hotly contested self-defense claim and tangled appeals centering on changes to Florida’s stand your ground law.

Attorneys for Reeves argued that he was a scared old man, afraid that the much younger and stronger Oulson was about to pummel him, when he drew his handgun and fired.

“I truly thought this was the end of the line for me,” Reeves testified in the trial. “I thought at the very least I would be seriously injured, if not killed.”

Oulson, 43, and his wife, Nicole, sat a row ahead of them. As movie previews rolled, Reeves noticed Oulson looking at his cellphone. He told him to put the phone away. Oulson ignored him and kept scrolling.

Reeves got up, went to the lobby and complained to a manager. Returning to the theater, he saw that Oulson had put away his phone. He made a comment that if Oulson had done so sooner, he wouldn’t have had to tell the manager.

At that, Oulson rose and confronted Reeves. He grabbed the bag of popcorn and tossed it at him. Reeves immediately reached into his pocket, drew a .380 caliber pistol and fired.

Nicole Oulson had raised her hand to try to get her husband to sit down. The bullet hit her finger before penetrating his chest.

Chad Oulson staggered down the aisle and collapsed. An off-duty Sumter County sheriff’s deputy disarmed Reeves.

Handcuffed in the back of a patrol car hours later, Reeves said he thought Oulson hit him with something before the popcorn flew.

“I didn’t want to shoot anybody,” Reeves testified in trial. “I came to the theater with my family to enjoy a movie, not to be attacked by some guy that’s out of control.”

In the trial, and in a two-week stand your ground hearing that preceded it five years earlier, Reeves’ account stood in contrast to what other people in the theater remembered.

Nicole Oulson recalled that Reeves was demanding and rude.

“There was no ‘excuse me,’ or ‘Do you mind?’” she testified. “It was just very matter of fact that ‘you need to do this.’”

Other witnesses claimed they heard Reeves mutter something about popcorn being thrown in his face moments before they heard the gunshot.

“‘Man killed over popcorn toss’ — that sounds like a sensationalized headline, something you’d read in big, bold type at a newsstand,” prosecutor Scott Rosenwasser said in closing arguments Friday. “But in this case it’s absolutely, unfortunately true.”

Rosenwasser argued that no other witnesses recalled a version of events similar to what Reeves claimed. He pointed to a security video inside the theater, which showed Reeves drawing the weapon within a second of the popcorn flying. He argued that Reeves, a career police officer who knew how to de-escalate volatile situations, instead chose to make this one worse.

Defense attorney Escobar took his time during a more than three-hour closing argument, urging the jury to put themselves in Reeves’ position, to try to understand what occurred from the perspective of a then-71-year-old man.

“The law of self-defense doesn’t tell you ‘Get smacked first, get punched first, then see what you can do,’ because, as state witnesses have told you, just one punch can cause great bodily harm and one punch can cause death,” he said. “The law of self-defense requires us to judge the reasonableness of Reeves’ perception — not here in the comfort of a courtroom, but in a darkened, cramped theater.”

Defense attorney Richard Escobar explains justifiable use of deadly force during closing arguments to the jury in the murder trial of retired Tampa police Capt. Curtis Reeves.Defense attorney Richard Escobar explains justifiable use of deadly force during closing arguments to the jury in the murder trial of retired Tampa police Capt. Curtis Reeves. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Staff writer Anastasia Dawson is reporting live from the trial at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City. Her tweets appear below.

And catch up here on the trial so far, in reverse order: Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday, Friday, Feb. 17, Feb. 16, Feb. 15 and Feb. 14. Read the full background on the case here.

Rick Escobar claps his hand together and lets out a small yelp in relief , vivian is crying as she hugs friends and family, Nicole Oulson is sobbing and quickly exits court. Judge Susan Barthle is making a very quick exit #CurtisReeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 26, 2022

Escobar than points out that, forensically Oulson’s hand was in front of his thorax when #CurtisReeves shot – would be consistent with someone making a fist

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: “Why would Mrs. Oulson have to hold her own husband back? Because she knows his violent tendencies?” Major objections from state – judge tells jury to disregard that comment.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar also tells jury to think about why Nicole Oulson’s left hand was on his chest when #CurtisReeves shot. Would have been awkward if they were side by side, but not so hard if he was in front of her, going over seat towards Reeves.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: If we were sitting in seat 9A, like #CurtisReeves, what would we see? We would see those hands coming towards you. That matters.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar shows the jury #CurtisReeves “old man” glasses – flexible and capable of creating the injury to his eyelid. That injury was noticed by a PCSO crime scene tech, who took photos of it. Says “without a doubt” Reeves was hit in the face with that phone

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar talks about that grainy surveillance video &the little flash in the corner. Maybe its a cell phone, maybe its #CurtisReeves shoe moving, but either way its a reaction to Oulson coming over the back of his seat towards Reeves &his wife

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar then tells jury to think about what #CurtisReeves did when he got back from talking 2 the theater manager that day – he grabbed popcorn from his wife. If he knew he was about to get into it w/Oulson he would have kept both hands free

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

#CurtisReeves was a no stone unturned homicide detective& then protected 30-40k Busch Gardens visitors daily. Don’t let the prosecution tell you that it doesn’t matter, Escobar said. In 27 years at TPD, 15 leading tactical response, he never once shot his gun.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

It’s an incredible education on the realities of how vulnerable we are, young or old, to violence, Escobar said. You’re reminded that in a moment’s notice you could be crippled or killed. It’s an experience most never get, but #CurtisReeves lived it daily.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

As homicide detective #CurtisReeves was in the medical examiner’s office multiple days a week, watching them cut into human bodies &dictating reasons for injuries & causes of death, Escobar said.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

#CurtisReeves is not just some trigger-happy ex cop.
TPDs upper brass had the utmost confidence in his training & judgement. Curtis didn’t want to rise up the ranks for control, but for income! He had a wife &2 kids, he was going to school full time & trying 2 make a living

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: There’s an action and a reaction. The human body takes time to perceive what you’re seeing, decide what you’re going to do, and react. This absolutely could not have been about popcorn #CurtisReeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: Dr. Vedard testified that #CurtisReeves did not fire that weapon in response to popcorn being thrown – the state’s primary theme! He testified that 0.72 sec passed between that time period of those hands coming to grab the popcorn and the firing of the shot

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar points out state complaints about experts they hired to testify, like Dr. Roy Bedard, whom the same prosecutors hired themselves in a different case #CurtisReeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: It’s a dangerous world we live in. Things happen in split seconds. It’s very difficult to judge what comes next. It’s very difficult to understand the makeup of that person who is about to attack you. But LEO like #CurtisReeves know to look for cues to prevent attack

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: He had no duty to retreat and had the absolute right to stand his ground and meet force with force including deadly force. Those are the protections that all of us as citizens of this great state enjoy #CurtisReeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: That’s the beauty of this law: it does not punish an individual’s reasonable perception they are in danger. The danger facing Curtis reeves need not have been actual. As long as he reasonably perceived it was a dangerous situation the law protects us.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: the law says a person is justified in use of deadly force if a person reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another (like Vivian) & that danger need not have been actual #CurtisReeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: The law has recognized that the aged in our community are vulnerable & if the aged are vulnerable we’ve got to protect them because one “misdemeanor battery” punch could cost them their lives, so 65+ it’s a felony charge – up to 5 yrs in prison

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: The law of self defense doesn’t tell you ‘Get smacked first, get punched first, then see what you can do,’ because, as state witnesses have told you, just one punch can cause great bodily harm and one punch can cause death #CurtisReeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: Don’t judge #CurtisReeves by the prosecution’s life experience, but by Reeves. Not once in his entire career did he fire his weapon in the line of duty. He was asked to start one of the most dangerous squads at TPD, he traveled the country studying how to prevent danger

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: Burden of proof is the bedrock of our system of justice, and that burden of proof is on the prosecution. #CurtisReeves entered a plea of not guilty, so you must presume he’s innocent. That’s how we start this trial and there’s a reason why that’s the law.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: We live in the greatest country in the world w/a system of justice considered the very best & because we have to consider everything. We have to analyze the evidence and judge that evidence. #CurtisReeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: the state is telling u not to consider this or that. Do not discount anything! Do not discount anything that we do/say/present or that the prosecution presents either! Because it all matters. All of it matters to #CurtisReeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: #CurtisReeves at the time of this incident had more knowledge, more experience, more study in that area than anyone in this courtroom and certainly anyone that was responsible for investigating his case. You must consider Reeves’ perception in that moment

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Escobar: The law requires each of us to stand in the shoes of #CurtisReeves, a 71yo man at the time, a decorated law enforcement officer who had countless hours of training in use of force, assessment of danger, & the risks that take place when faced with a dangerous encounter

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

#CurtisReeves atty Rick Escobar: The law of self defense requires us 2 judge the reasonableness of Reeves’ perception, not here in the comfort of a courtroom, but in a darkened, cramped theater

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

#CurtisReeves defense atty Rick Escobar starts his closing arguments w/an old adage: You don’t judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes. “A very wise saying that’s actually embodied in the laws of self defense.”

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser ends his argument by showing the jury 2 photos of 2 men: “This is what happened to #CurtisReeves that day, note the redness on his eye. But this is what happened to Chad Oulson. Did this man really believe that (Oulson’s autopsy photo) was necessary?”

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

And the biggest evidence against #CurtisReeves – how could not a single person say they saw or heard this terrible attack? And why didn’t he have any signs of injury, other than a small red mark on his eyelid – behind his glasses which would have protected his eyes?

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

At the time #CurtisReeves shot Chad Oulson, the popcorn had already been tossed and Oulson was bringing his arm back to his body. You can see it in the video “plain as day”

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Still, Rosenwasser said, #CurtisReeves leaned over a 3rd time and poked Oulson again “because he’s the alpha male & he’s used to being in control. It’s like getting the last word in w/ a kid. It’s spiteful.”

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Regardless of what #CurtisReeves said to Oulson when he leaned over not once but 2xs, he had put his phone away, Reeves got what he wanted.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser reminds the jury about #CurtisReeves archery, bicycling, choosing a seat in the very back of a theater despite perceived physical limitations. But if someone w/2 broken legs and a torn rotator cuff got popcorn thrown in their face, should they be allowed to kill?

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser: All these things seem so silly I almost hate to bring them up, but it’s all so untrue. #CurtisReeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Actions are everything, Rosenwasser said. “Did #CurtisReeves really perceive himself as this vulnerable, fragile egg as he climbed 10ft up a tree to hunt just days before the shooting?’

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser asks jury to forget about the hours of testimony #CurtisReeves defense brought in from experts on what COULD have happened to Reeves body/mind/crime scene. Forget about the video going to Cobb corporate, or detectives asking bad questions. This is about Reeves

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Much was made of witness contamination by #CurtisReeves defense, but there’s no evidence of that at all, Rosenwasser said. No one knew each other or conspired against Reeves. In fact, married couples said they saw different things, despite sharing info, b/c they were under oath

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser reminds jury of how #CurtisReeves was “second-guessing” whether he was hit or not from the moment he got arrested, “but u don’t get second guesses when you kill somebody.”

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Another ‘shiny object’ from #CurtisReeve: the Pasco Sheriff’s investigation, Rosenwasser says. The investigation was crappy, absolutely. It was terrible, no doubt about it. Not one person would tell you otherwise. But the reality is that doesn’t mean a single thing in this case.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

&Rosenwasser says Matt Reeves was the only moviegoer who said it was too dark to see. He said he heard #CurtisReeves say “get out of my face,” but then played Reeves interview w/detectives that night – Reeves says Oulson told HIM 2 “get out of my face”

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser says #CurtisReeves children are good people in a tough situation – credible & not credible at the same time because they’re too close. They want to save their dad. Jennifer Shaw’s testimony on dad deteriorating w/age doesn’t change the fact he killed Oulson

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser: A camera can never in a million yrs tell you what an eyewitness can tell you, and they all told u that despite being dark & loud in theater, despite odd layout, they all said under oath they saw or heard #CurtisReeves start it and end it

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

#CurtisReeves argues investigators should’ve recreated the scene& theater was too dark &loud to rely on what witnesses saw. But state says it’s “literally impossible to create that scene.” What was on the screen, who sat where, who was talking, what angle were they looking, etc.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

#CurtisReeves argues investigators should’ve recreated the scene& theater was too dark &loud to rely on what witnesses saw. But state says it’s “literally impossible to create that scene.” What was on the screen, who sat where, who was talking, what angle were they looking, etc.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser tells jury not to fall for “shiny objects” from #CurtisReeves defense. He already said he intended to shoot Oulson, the question is was the use of deadly force necessary & could he reasonably think killing Oulson was only way to stop death or great bodily harm

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Evidence shows #CurtisReeves started it & ended it, Rosenwasser said. His LEO history shows a man who likes being in dangerous situations, likes adrenaline, likes being the guy in control. Yet he says Oulson scared him more than any experience he had on street patrol? On SWAT?

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser says there’s no lack of evidence in #CurtisReeves case. Instead, there’s 9 eyewitnesses, the defendant’s conflicting statements, and a video showing Reeves leaning forward and shooting Oulson from the hip – no grand attack, no life or death struggle

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Rosenwasser: I submit #CurtisReeves told that story b/c he had no idea so many people saw what happened, and he never in a million years would have guessed a 10th silent witness saw it too – the security camera. In the end, the silent witness spoke the loudest.

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Yesterday, #CurtisReeves gave a very self-serving statement. But a self-serving story does not equal self defense. 2 of the 9 moviegoers were called by defense, but NONE told a story remotely similar to Reeves’ account. Not even his wife Vivian, sitting right next to him

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

#CurtisReeves is a career law enforcement officer, trained in de-escalation, but instead of deescalating the situation he instigated it. Rosenwasser says none of Reeves’ varying accounts of why &how he killed Oulson are credible. We know b/c 9 eyewitnesses in the theater said so

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

#CurtisReeves is a career law enforcement officer, trained in de-escalation, but instead of deescalating the situation he instigated it. Rosenwasser says none of Reeves’ varying accounts of why &how he killed Oulson are credible. We know b/c 9 eyewitnesses in the theater said so

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

We know that’s true because 3 witnesses who don’t know each other, aren’t friends &were spread across the theater heard #CurtisReeves say as much after pulling the trigger/shooting Chad Oulson – “throw popcorn in my face”

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

Asst. State Atty Scott Rosenwasser up 1st to sum up the case against #CurtisReeves: “Man killed over popcorn toss” – that sounds like a sensationalized headline, something you’d read in big bold type @ a newsstand, but in this case it’s absolutely unfortunately true

— Anastasia Dawson (@adawsonwrites) February 25, 2022

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