An all but forgotten shooting in a Florida movie theater made national news, but may not have had a mass effect. That ability seems to come from mass shootings. The murder of 43 year-old Chad Oulson by 71 year-old Curtis Reeves – which is being called the “popcorn shooting” – is a theater shooting you may have forgotten about, but is nonetheless chilling.
Oulson, a Navy veteran (1990 to 1997) and avid motocross racer, was on a matinée movie date with his wife Nicole, on January 13, 2014, to see “Lone Survivor” (a movie about Navy SEALs). They sat one row in front of Reeves and his wife Vivian. Oulson was shot and killed by Reeves during an argument sparked by Oulson texting his child’s babysitter during movie previews. Reeves, a retired Tampa, Florida police captain and former SWAT leader, is claiming stand your ground immunity.
The third anniversary of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass shooting on July 20th and trial of the perpetrator that had ended July 16th, 2015 may have reminded Americans of just how vulnerable we are in public.
On July 23rd, 2015, exactly one week after the Aurora shooting trial had ended, news came of yet another theater shooting – this time at the MGM Grand Theater in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Chaos in a peaceful place of darkness where one may swap the horrors of the real world outside and feel safe with horrors on a screen also occurred during the interim between those two events. And from the moment news first came about a Florida movie theater shooting many of us just knew that “stand your ground” law would come into play. After all – it was in the “Gunshine State”, in a dark place, and reports were that it was a one-on-one confrontation.
Though police have reportedly said it was clearly not a case of self-defense, and a “stand your ground” defense was “off the table”, the man who opened fire in a Florida movie theater is quoted as saying he was “in fear” for his life – which is a required state of mind for a stand your ground defense – and has filed a claim for stand your ground immunity.
The Wesley Chapel Cobb Grove 16 movie theater in Pasco County had signs posted that banned weapons. And Reeves reportedly had also berated another moviegoer a week earlier. Yet Reeves could claim that he had as much right to be in the movie theater as the victim did. He could add that he had no duty to retreat, and was in fear “of being attacked” when this healthier, younger man – Oulson (who had the nerve to be texting a babysitter) – jocked him about trying to report the infraction to the theater management.
Since Reeves (also considered a firearms expert) was armed, it probably didn’t matter to him whether or not the younger man was armed. Reeves may claim he felt an “imminent threat” for his or his wife’s safety. At that moment of sheer testosterone/PTSD-fueled fear Reeves felt what he claimed was an “unknown object” yet what may well have been hot butter, popcorn and impact of a popcorn box hitting his body, but theater surveillance video [see below] does show what appears to be a cellphone being thrown by Oulson.
Nevertheless, Reeves apparently felt a need to “stand his ground”, using his handgun, to presumably protect his life. He had been assaulted. He felt empowered. He fired a .380 caliber bullet at close range that ripped through Oulson’s chest before it struck the hand of Oulson’s wife, Nicole.
The sheriff said that Reeves’ son – a Tampa officer who was off duty – was walking into the theater when the shooting occurred. Reeves, who suffers from high cholesterol, arthritis in his hands and requires an assisted breathing machine, reportedly briefly struggled with another off-duty deputy but released the weapon. The gun jammed and Reeves was unable to fire again.
Reeves was arrested for second-degree murder and aggravated assault. He has consistently maintained he fired in self defense. However, in a deposition on the day of the shooting. his wife, Vivian, said she did not see anything thrown at him. Reeves was initially denied bail, and jailed following the incident, but was released on bail in July 2014.
Reeves’ attorney, Richard Escobar, has said he thinks they have a “pretty solid stand your ground case” and have filed a stand your ground claim. The defense team bears the burden of proof (as per a recent Florida Supreme Court ruling) to show facts surrounding his innocence, his legal reasoning behind the crime, and why he should not be held accountable.
This will take place during a “stand your ground” hearing to determine whether or not Reeves is immune from prosecution. If he loses at this hearing the case would then be allotted for a judge or jury trial. If his plea is successful, he will walk free, and not have to stand trial.
You may have forgotten about that day when Chad Oulson was killed in a movie theater, but it doesn’t have to be a mass shooting in a peaceful place of darkness to have a powerfully chilling mass effect.