MIAMI (Reuters) - The man charged with shooting and killing a fellow moviegoer during an argument over cellphone use in a Florida theater is a retired police officer who says he feared being attacked.
Curtis Reeves, 71, a former Tampa police captain, was charged with second-degree murder after Monday’s shooting.
He was denied bond during a video appearance from jail before a circuit court judge in Pasco County on Tuesday afternoon and faces possible life in prison if found guilty.
The killing occurred before the showing of a new combat drama “Lone Survivor,” starring Mark Wahlberg. The movie, based on a New York Times non-fiction best-seller, tells the story of four Navy SEALs on an ill-fated covert mission in Afghanistan.
The Pasco County sheriff’s office said Reeves was watching coming attractions with his wife when they got into an argument with Chad Oulson, 43, and his wife, who were seated directly in front of them in the Tampa-area Grove 16 movie theater.
Oulson was using a cellphone to text-message or make a mobile video call to a daycare center or babysitter looking after his 3-year-old daughter, authorities said.
According to an arrest affidavit released by the sheriff’s office, Reeves said he brandished and fired his .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun after Oulson stood up and struck him in the face with an unknown object.
Oulson’s wife, Nicole, was wounded in the hand by the same gunshot that hit her husband in the chest, police said.
Although the affidavit quotes Reeves as saying he was “in fear of being attacked” when he fired his gun, witnesses said Oulson had only thrown a bag of popcorn at him.
Lawyers for Reeves could not be reached for immediate comment, and it was not clear whether he would seek immunity from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
The statute allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves from serious injury, rather than retreat to avoid confrontation, if they believe their life is in danger.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco told a news conference that, based on preliminary investigations, law enforcement officials did not believe lawyers could mount a successful Stand Your Ground defense for Reeves, however.
“His public defense is going to do everything possible to get him off. Our job is to have him convicted and bring justice to the victim’s family,” Nocco said.
“We did not determine that Stand Your Ground could be a justifiable reason why he shot the victim,” he added. “A Stand Your Ground case does not fly here in this case.”
Reporting by Tom Brown; editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Steve Orlofsky and Gunna Dickson