The stand your ground hearing in the case of Curtis Reeves, who shot Chad Oulson at a movie theater in 2014, is continuing on Tuesday, with Reeves himself set to take the stand in the afternoon. Reeves claims that he feared for his life when he shot Oulson during an altercation, and a controversial Florida law says that if he did indeed reasonably fear that his life was in danger, he should be immune from criminal charges even though he didn’t make an effort to escape the situation.
Security video from the theater, which was shown at Reeves’ bail hearing, captured the incident on camera. However, the lack of sound, poor video quality, and camera angle may provide more questions than answers. You can see Reeves in the row furthest to the right in the video, and he appears to lean towards someone in front of him, which is in line with the story that he said something to Oulson, who was supposedly texting on his phone during previews, which upset Reeves. Reeves then gets up and leaves, then comes back. A little while later, you can see Oulson get up and reach towards Reeves, possibly striking him while Reeves is seated. Reeves immediately reaches out and shoots.
What makes Florida’s “stand your ground” law controversial is that it does not require a person to try to escape or run away from a situation before using deadly force if they reasonably believe that their life is in danger. Here, with Reeves seated in a movie theater, and Oulson standing up and reaching towards him, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere for him to go. While Oulson’s chair is separating them, Oulson can clearly reach over it, and if Reeves stood up, he’d arguably be in greater danger. Even if he could escape, Oulson would be able to follow him.
However, another key element of the law is that Reeves would have to be found to have reasonably believed that his life was in danger when he fired his weapon. If Oulson had, for the sake of argument, punched Reeves hard in the face or chest, and was making threats, one could imagine Reeves fearing for his life. But the story that Reeves’ wife gave was that Oulson reached towards him, took popcorn out of his hands, and threw it at him. That’s very different. Might Reeves have reasonably feared that Oulson would escalate the situation? Certainly. But did Reeves had to shoot him at that very instant? Well, that’s for the judge to decide, but it’s a bit more of a stretch.
Reeves appears to have fired very quickly, so he may have had his hand on the gun the whole time, just in case Oulson attacked him. But being prepared in case your life is in danger is not the same as believing that your life is in danger at that very moment.
Reeves will testify this afternoon, and perhaps we’ll get more of the story and what was going through his mind at the time. Watch his testimony live on the LawNewz Network.