Chad Oulson, a 43-year-old Florida man, was shot and killed at a Tampa-area movie theater in 2014 by another moviegoer who confronted him for texting during the previews. 

Now, Curtis Reeves — the retired Tampa police captain accused of killing Oulson — is headed to trial on second-degree murder charges this week. 

Reeves, who is now 78 years old, had delayed proceedings by previously invoking Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, though a judge ruled in 2017 that the doctrine did not apply. Revised protocols stemming from the Covid-19 also postponed the trial, according to reports. 

Through the years of appeals and delays, the retired policeman has remained under court-ordered house arrest.

His trial began on Monday, as Pasco County Judge Susan Barthle and a jury of six heard opening arguments from Reeves’ lawyers and from government prosecutors. The proceedings are expected to unfold over three weeks, and Reeves could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted

What Happened to Chad Oulson?

According to media reports, Reeves and Oulson both joined their wives at a showing of the Afghanistan war drama Lone Survivor at a movie theater in Wesley Chapel — a suburb of Tampa — on Jan 13, 2014. 

In official police reports and court documents filed by prosecutors, authorities have alleged that Reeves became annoyed when Oulson, who was sitting in the front row, was texting on his cellphone during the trailers. 

Curtis Reeves and Chad Oulson got into a dispute at a movie theater in Tampa suburb Wesley Chapel in Jan. 2014.
Curtis Reeves and Chad Oulson got into a dispute at a movie theater in Tampa suburb Wesley Chapel in Jan. 2014. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Prosecutors said the 43-year-old was checking in on his daughter, who was at daycare at the time. 

Reeves reportedly stormed out of the theater in anger to report Oulson to a manager. When he returned, witnesses said he confronted Oulson, starting a verbal argument in the theater. 

According to investigators, Oulson threw his bag of popcorn at Reeves during the dispute. In response, police said Reeves drew a .380-caliber handgun and shot the 43-year-old in the chest. Oulson’s wife Nicole was struck in the hand, as she was trying to “hold back” her husband when the shots rang out, jurors were told. 

Chad Oulson was 43 when he was shot and killed at a Tampa theater in 2014. Retired police captain Curtis Reeves is on trial for the slaying this week.
Chad Oulson was 43 when he was shot and killed by another moviegoer at a Tampa theater in 2014. Retired police captain Curtis Reeves is on trial for the slaying this week. Photo credit: Facebook

Trial Begins for Curtis Reeves

On Monday, more than eight years after his trip to the movies, Reeves was in a Florida courtroom to assert his innocence. 

Prosecutors told jurors during opening arguments that Reeves had made the decision to take a man’s life over a bag of popcorn. 

“What the evidence will show you is that Chad Oulson was shot and killed over tossing popcorn,” said Scott Rosenwasser, Assistant State Attorney, according to reports. “That’s no reason to kill another person.”

Curtis Reeves, now 79, will stand trial for the 2014 movie theater shooting of 43-year-old Chad Oulson.
Curtis Reeves, now 79, will stand trial for the 2014 movie theater shooting of 43-year-old Chad Oulson. Prosecutors believe Reeves shot Oulson for texting in the theater and throwing a bag of popcorn at him. Photo credit: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

For their part, Reeves’ attorneys argued that the police veteran legitimately feared for his physical wellbeing, and acted within his rights when he shot Oulson. 

“This isn’t about popcorn,” defense attorney Dino Michaels told jurors. “You’re going to see there was an attack before the popcorn was thrown.”

Michaels added that Reeves, a former Tampa police captain who retired from the force in 1993 after 27 years of service, “understood risk and sensed danger” when he decided to pull the trigger. 

Curtis Reeves, now 79, was a Tampa police officer for 27 years before he allegedly killed moviegoer Chad Oulson in 2014.
Curtis Reeves, now 79, was a Tampa police officer for 27 years before he allegedly killed moviegoer Chad Oulson in 2014. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Reeves was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault. A judge originally ordered he be held without bail at an arraignment hearing in February 2014, but the retired cop was later freed on $150,000 bond in July. Since then, Reeves has been confined to his Tampa-area home with an ankle monitor.

In the years following, lawyers for the accused killer have sought to defend Reeves under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, a legal doctrine of self-defense infamously invoked by George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 16-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. 

That gambit fell flat in 2017, when Judge Barthle ruled that Oulson’s actions did not justify Reeves’ use of deadly force.