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‘I Realized I Was in a Life or Death Struggle’: Curtis Reeves Describes Fight That Led to Him Shoot Man in Theater


On the seventh day of his “stand your ground” hearing, Curtis Reeves took the stand to describe what happened before he shot and killed a man in a Florida movie theater in 2014. Reeves, who was 71 years old at the time of the incident, described the altercation between himself and Chad Oulson that led to Oulson’s death. Reeves claims that he feared for his life when he pulled the trigger, and if the judge believes him, state law says that he would be immune from criminal charges. If not, he could stand trial for second degree murder.

Reeves said that after he and his wife Vivian took their seats at the theater before a screening of “Lone Survivor,” he saw Oulson texting in the row in front of him. The light from Oulson’s screen was bothering Reeves. The theater had already given a notice for patrons to put their phones away for the duration of the show. Reeves said he waited about 20 to 30 seconds for Oulson to finish what he was doing, and then leaned over to tell him to stop. Reeves told the court that about 30 seconds later, when Oulson was still on his phone, Reeves told him he had no choice but to go to management. Oulson responded, saying, “I don’t give a [expletive] what you do,” Reeves recalled.

Reeves then went to management, despite his wife suggesting they just change seats. After informing a manager that Oulson wouldn’t put his phone away, Reeves returned, and Oulso was staring at him, he said. Upon seeing that Oulson was no longer on his phone, Reeves said he told him, “I see you’re not on your phone, sorry I involved theater management.” Reeves then went back to his seat and sat down.

At this point, Reeves said, the situation escalated. He testified that Oulson and his wife Nicole were talking loudly, and then Oulson got up and spun around, facing Vivian Reeves, and then turning towards Reeves himself. Reeves said he could see a dark object in Oulson’s hand and a glow in front of his own face, and then Oulson hit him in the face, above the left eye, knocking his glasses out of place, blurring his vision. Reeves said that Oulson was yelling and cursing at him, saying, among other things, “I’ll kick your f’ing ass,” and “F you,” but that Oulson spoke the actual expletives.

Reeves said that he wanted to get away at that point, but couldn’t, because Oulson was above him, leaning towards him, so if Reeves stood up, he’d only be closer to Oulson. Instead, he tried to lean back in his chair to create space. He said Oulson appeared to be trying to get over the chairs, and that he realized he was trapped. “I think at that point,” Reeves testified, “I realized I was in a life or death struggle.” That’s when Reeves reached for his pistol. Reeves said he then saw Oulson getting closer, looking like he was preparing to punch him.

And then he pulled the trigger.

“Did you want to shoot him?” Reeves’ attorney asked.

“Absolutely not.”

“So why did you shoot?”

“Well, at that point it was his life or mine.”

When asked if he felt Oulson was going to hurt him, Reeves affirmed, fighting back tears, “No question.”

[Image via screengrab]

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