(CN) - More than three years after shooting an unarmed man in a movie theater, retired cop Curtis Reeves took the stand in a Florida courtroom Tuesday, defending the actions that led to the death of 43-year-old Chad Oulson.
Reeves, 74, faces a second-degree murder charge for shooting and killing the younger man in an argument over texting during movie previews.
The former Tampa police captain claims immunity under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows a citizen to use deadly force to prevent death, great bodily harm or a forcible felony.
The hearing, presided over by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle, will determine if Reeves faces prosecution or walks free.
Reeves began his testimony laying out his past work history as a Tampa police officer who worked his way up to captain.
“I saw law enforcement as an opportunity to serve the community,” Reeves told the court.
After retiring from the police force, Reeves became director of security for the Busch Gardens theme park.
After going over his various certifications and awards with defense attorney Richard Escobar, Reeves recalled the events of January 13, 2014.
Around 1 p.m. that day, Reeves said, he and his wife arrived at a movie theater and sat behind Oulson and his wife to watch “Lone Survivor.”
During the previews, Oulson checked his phone, prompting Reeves to ask him to put it away, because the light was distracting him.
"I leaned over to the gentleman -- my voice was low -- and I said, ‘Sir, can you put your cell phone away?'" Reeves said he told Oulson. “I’m not belligerent. I’m quiet.”
When Oulson refused, Reeves said he left to contact a manager. After returning, the argument continued.
“As I’m walking down the aisle, he looked at me,” Reeves said. “As I went passed, as a goodwill gesture, I said, ‘I see you are not on your phone. Sorry I involved management.’”
At that point, Oulson stood up to confront him, Reeves testified.
“When I looked up he was coming over the seat at me … and I saw just a snapshot of something dark in his hand,” Reeves told the court.
Then something hit Reeves in the face, he said.
“I was kind of dazed, I was disoriented,” Reeves said. “It’s just something you would not expect to happen in a theater.”
Prosecutors have questioned the claims that Oulson threw an object, other than popcorn, at Reeves.
“He was suddenly right in front me,” Reeves continued. “He was getting ready to punch me. I perceived that at some point and I took my pistol out.”
Escobar, Reeves’ attorney, asked, “Did you want to shoot him?”
“Absolutely not,” Reeves answered.
“And what did you do at that point?” Escobar asked.
“I shot him,” Reeves answered. “At that point, it was his life or mine.”
Reeves briefly wiped the corners of his eyes before Escobar continued his questions.
The bullet fired by Reeves also injured the hand of Oulson’s wife, Nicole. Reeves faces an aggravated battery charge for that injury.
Oulson was present in the courtroom during Reeves’ testimony. Last week, Oulson said the former officer acted “rudely” when asking her husband to put away his phone.
Oulson also has a wrongful death suit pending against Cobb Theaters, the manager of the theater and the owner of the plaza where the theater is located.
In his cross examination, state attorney Glenn Martin attempted to pick apart Reeves’ statement to police after the shooting. Reeves said the arresting officer did not ask too many questions.
“I think we’re splitting hairs,” Reeves responded to one of Martin’s questions about leaning forward in his seat. “This was mere seconds, it was instantaneous.”
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