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Friends Testify at Theater Shooting Hearing

Brendan Fitterer
AP Photo/Pool, Tampa Bay Times

Family and friends of a retired Tampa police captain accused of fatally shooting a man at a movie theater told a judge Wednesday that the former officer is an honorable, even-tempered man who should be released on bail.

Curtis Reeves, 71, is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of 43-year-old Chad Oulson. On Wednesday, he formally entered a plea of not guilty.

Police said Reeves became upset when Oulson was texting during the movie previews. The two men got into a verbal argument and witnesses told officers that Oulson threw popcorn at Reeves, authorities have said.

The eight-hour hearing was supposed to determine whether Judge Pat Siracusa would grant bail for Reeves, who has been in jail since the Jan. 13 shooting. But prosecutors and defense attorneys called so many witnesses — and asked so many questions of those people — that the hearing was continued until Friday.

Reeves' attorney Richard Escobar said his client was defending himself, but prosecutors said Oulson didn't hit or touch Reeves. If convicted, Reeves could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison.

Oulson's wife, who police say was shot in the hand, was in the court Wednesday, but she didn't speak.

Nicole Oulson sobbed as she listened to the testimony of a nurse who was in the theater that day and tried to safe Chad Oulson's life.

Other witnesses for the prosecution included people in the theater that day: a former Marine, an off-duty sheriff's deputy, and a retired clandestine case officer for the Air Force.

All three witnesses described the events of that afternoon, in varying detail and with varying discrepancies.

All agreed on one thing: The shooting was unexpected, and quick.

Alan Hamilton, an off-duty Sumter County sheriff's deputy who was in the theater to watch the film "Lone Survivor," said that immediately after the shooting, he moved toward the commotion and took the weapon away from Reeves.

Hamilton said that Reeves' wife was sitting nearby and said to her husband that he had "no cause" to shoot anyone — and that Reeves used an expletive to tell his wife to be quiet.

Defense attorneys pointed out that Hamilton did not mention that exchange between Reeves and his wife in a statement written for detectives in the hours after the shooting.

Reeves sat quietly at the defense table, flanked by two of his attorneys. He wore khaki pants, a white shirt and a burgundy sweater vest. He was not shackled and had the least restrictive constraints the court allows for a defendant — something a Pasco County sheriff's deputy told the judge his agency disagreed with.

Escobar called four character witnesses as of early afternoon. All said Reeves was a competent police officer who rarely, if ever, became angry.

Reeves' daughter, Jennifer Shaw, tearfully testified about how her father played with her 2-year-old daughter. Shaw said she lived with her father and mother — who have been married for 46 years — because she is going through a divorce.

She said Reeves was the first person she called about the divorce.

"I kind of expected him to try to take charge of the situation, but he didn't," she said.

Shaw told the court that she and her family are prepared to put the Reeves' home up as collateral for the bond. It's worth about $186,000, Shaw said. She also said the family has access to a $30,000 home equity line and about $22,000 in cash.

Shaw also said all of the guns owned by her father have been taken out of his house by his son, who is a Tampa police officer.

At one point during Shaw's testimony, Reeves took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.

Reeves' friends said he wouldn't pose a risk to the community if he was released.

"There's nothing in my affiliation with him that would lead me to believe that he's a danger," said Thomas DePolis, who worked with Reeves to set up a SWAT team at the Tampa Police department.

Another witness, Margaret Scalise, said her husband worked with Reeves when he was security director at the Busch Gardens theme park. The Scalises and the Reeves traveled frequently together.

"He's a very honest and honorable man," Scalise said.

Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia said he will call four witnesses who saw the shooting. None of them, Garcia said, saw Oulson hit, strike or touch Reeves — but they did see him become more agitated that afternoon.

The judge also ruled on two open-records motions. The judge will allow surveillance video from the theater to be shown in court Wednesday. He also ruled that all discovery evidence will be sealed from the public for 30 days so Reeves' attorneys can review it and perhaps challenge all or parts of its release to the public.

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