Does Curtis Reeves' case boil down to whether someone can bring a gun to a popcorn fight?
That's what legal expert Jeff Brown predicted this case would come down to the morning after the deadly shooting at Cobb Theater in Wesley Chapel last month, as he explained Florida law.
"You can use deadly force as long as you feel your life is in great bodily harm or threatened," Brown said on Good Day Tampa Bay. "So you can bring a gun to a popcorn fight."
Weeks later, after surveillance video of the shooting was shown during Reeves' bond hearing, former prosecutor and current defense attorney Anthony Rickman said that question remains critical to a self-defense claim -- but also there's more to it.
"I think it's more than bringing a gun to a popcorn fight, because you have to look at the entire totality of all the circumstances," said Rickman, who has viewed the surveillance video several times. "You have to look at the initial argument, the words that were exchanged. You have to look at the different types of force that was used against Reeves. Then you have to look at Reeves, if he was justified based on everything that happened to him."
Reeves is currently being held without bond following a judge's ruling last week.
Investigators have said the confrontation started as an argument over texting and ended with Reeves, 71, firing the deadly shot at Chad Oulson. Reeves' attorneys, however, said the video shows the retired Tampa Police Captain first getting hit by Oulson's phone, before the 43-year-old reaches over his seat, grabs Reeves' popcorn and throws it back at him.
"That confrontation is escalated into a physical confrontation when Oulson throws his cell phone at Reeves," said Rickman, adding that act is a felony and that Oulson committed two more. "After the five seconds pass, you see Oulson then snatch the popcorn from Reeves, committing now a second battery, that snatching, and then throwing the popcorn in his face, which is, again, a third battery."
Reeves told detectives he feared for his life when Oulson reached over his seat and that's why he shot him.
"He scared the heck out of me. I thought the guy was about to beat the s--- out of me," Reeves can be heard saying to a detective in a recording made the day of the shooting.
His wife, Vivian Reeves, told detectives a similar story.
"He reached over. It looked like his whole body came forward," she said.
"What Reeves is going to say is that he was under attack," Rickman said. "He was overpowered by Oulson who was much bigger and that that was the only way to protect himself and his wife."
But Rickman pointed out prosecutors will use many of those same moments to argue Reeves overreacted and had should not have had a reasonable fear.
"We saw Reeves sit back for five seconds after the cell phone was thrown at him, not retaliate then, but now you're going to shoot somebody because you got hit with popcorn?" Rickman said. "What the prosecutor is going to argue, essentially, is that, no, you can't bring a firearm to a popcorn fight. You can't shoot somebody because they threw something at you."
Reeves' attorney, Richard Escobar, has said he plans to appeal the ruling to keep his client in jail without bond.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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