Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tampa Bay Theater "Popcorn" Shooting: Don't Frighten an Old Man

Video of Theater Shooting link

On January 13, 2014, a retired police officer, Curtis Reeves, and his wife were preparing to watch "Lone Survivor" in a theater in the unincorporated area of Wesley Chapel, part of the Tampa Bay Florida metro complex.

Directly in front of the retired officer and his wife were another couple, Chad Oulson and his wife.

Reeves and Chad got into a dispute after Reeves asked Chad to stop using his cell phone during previews.

The case has been characterized as a retired police officer shooting someone who threw popcorn at him.  I was surprised to see the reality when surveillance video of the confrontation was released.  The violent confrontation took about 1.3 seconds.

During that period, Chad Oulson snatched the popcorn container from Reeves lap, flung it at his face from about a foot away, rapidly extended his hand toward Reeves face again, and pulls it back, fractions of a second before Reeves shoots.  In the video, you can only see Oulson's outstretched arm and hand. The rest of him is outside the surveillance video frame.

Correction: There were two thrusts at Reeves, but the above paragraph has the sequence wrong. The first thrust is to grab the popcorn, the second is to fling the popcorn.  The above paragraph states that the grabbing and flinging were in one motion, and then a second motion without the popcorn. That is not the case.

The outstretched Arm of Chad Oulson is under the red arrow.  The container of popcorn is just to left, in flight. Head of retired officer Reeves is just to left of cup in flight, barely visible.

The defense in the case has nothing to do with the "Stand Your Ground" law. The action happened so rapidly that there was no chance to retreat.  Reeves was confined in the theater chair, is elderly, and in no condition to fight a younger man.  Both men are large, but Oulson, at 43, was nearly 3 decades younger, in his prime. Clearly, this was an assault by Oulson.

The establishment news coverage has characterized this as a "Stand Your Ground" case, and the pre-trial hearing as a Stand Your Ground hearing.

In reality it is a completely separate part of the the law, a pre-trial immunity hearing. The immunity hearing just ended, with the judge finding a preponderance of the evidence did not prove self defense. From palmbeachpost.com:
A retired Florida police captain who shot and killed a man in a movie theater will face a second-degree murder charge after a judge ruled that the state’s "stand your ground" law does not apply in this case.
The hearing will be appealed. From tampbay.com:
Dino Michaels, a member of Reeves' defense team, said they respect the judge's ruling but intend to file a challenge with the Second District Court of Appeals.
One of the strongest points of the defense is that Reeves, 71, was defending against an assault on the elderly. That makes Oulson's assault on Reeves a violent felony.  In Florida, deadly force is justified to stop a violent felony. From fox6now.com:
“The claim of the defense is that Mr. Oulson was committing a felony against Mr. Reeves by abuse of the elderly when he threw his cell phone at Mr. Reeves,” Swartz said.
The judge in the immunity hearing never mentioned the violent felony justification in her ruling. She did not refute it or dispute it.

 This was a tragic case. It seems that either party could have de-escalated early on. Either party could have moved to other seats. It looked as though there were many empty seats. It did not get physical until Oulson snatched Reeves popcorn and flung it in his face at extremely close range.

This may be a classic case of the old canard: "Don't frighten an old man. He won't fight. He will just kill you."

 ©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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Anonymous said...

To me stand your ground does not require moving to another seat. Most theaters have a lobby if you really need to use your cell phone. I go to the movies to see a movie not to listen to cell phones ringing or their conversations.

Anonymous said...

This is why every theater should have ACTIVE cell phone blocking and the FCC should allow this exception. If you cannot live without your phone for the length of a movie, stay at home.

ExpatNJ said...

And, when a theater-goer can't call for help (for a heart attack, stroke, fire, etc) on their cell phone, how are YOU gonna feel? Are YOU gonna pay for that lawsuit? Are YOU gonna raise that unnecessarily dead person from the grave?

It is best to always think through ALL the possible results of one's proposals.

Theaters should impose AND ENFORCE a cell-phone ban during the shows. There, I fixed it for ya. Better yet, don't go to the movies at all:

"What I do know is the inviolable rule of survival: stay away from crowds"
- 'Ol Remus, http://www.woodpilereport.com/html/index-465.htm, 03/14/2017.

Anonymous said...

That is the issue with so many laws and regulations, not enough thought goes into them for all situations. getting anything changed takes for ever. I recommended changes in the training for CPR. ten years before I retired. then ten years after I retired the changer were made. and they screwed that up. the old way to do chest compressions was to do five compressions and stop long enough to give two breaths. Move and oxygenate the blood. My recommendations were to not stop the compressions and impose the breaths as the compressions were relieving pressure. a little practice and it is easy to do. In ACLS you are adding lots of drugs/ chemicals to the blood. those drugs need to get to where they need to be to work. stop compressions and they get absorbed where the blood stops. They will not work well or as intended if the blood is not oxygenated. when the American red cross changed the training they decided the breathing was not important. I almost always did it my way and when I did it my way I had a 98% success rate. I remember a first responder, a fireman, his first ever need to use CPR. I instructed him to check his hand placement and not stop compressions. He gave me a look like OK? we were successful and it really made his day. I have worked well over 500 ACLS cases in the emergency room. an unwitnessed case came in with CPR in progress. After all the meds had been pushed the doctor stopped the code, claiming no response and started filling out the death certificate. about the time the doctor was nearly finished filling out the death certificate the patient set up and asked where am I. the meds take time to work once they get where they need to be. the only cases I ever lost had no chance to start with. One doctor had me do compressions on a patient for fifteen minutes longer than necessary just to document the quality of the compressions. every time I stopped the rhythm stopped He could not tell the difference between my compressions and normal sinus rhythm. He ran extra long monitor strips to pass out to his friends to see if they could tell the difference. I really fear having to be seen in an Emergency room if I really need it.