A man was shot to death Jan. 13 inside a Florida movie theater, allegedly because he was texting. Witnesses say Chad Oulson was texting in the theater before the movie started, and that this provoked an argument with nearby ex-cop Curtis Reeves. Reeves allegedly shot Oulson once through the chest, killing him, and was arrested.
The shooting has caught attention nationwide, not only because of the sheer brutality but because Reeves claims he “Stood His Ground” and had a right to shoot. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law says that a person has a right to stay and use lethal force if they’re attacked or believe they are about to be attacked—and Reeves claims that’s exactly what he believed. As such, the movie theater killing echoes the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed Martin, was acquitted. So will Reeves walk free as well?
Most likely not. While there’s no way to know what a jury and judge will decide, there are major differences between the movie theater case and the Trayvon case. These include:
Popcorn is not dangerous: Just before being shot, Oulson allegedly threw popcorn at Reeves. Perhaps not a mature act, but also not a life-threatening attack. Reeves claims he thought the popcorn was a weapon, thus justifying his self-defense. It will be hard to get a jury (or anyone) to believe that.
Witnesses: In the Zimmerman case, it never was clear who started the scuffle—Trayvon or his killer. There were no witnesses to testify. Lacking any clear proof of guilt, the jury chose to believe Zimmerman’s claim that he acted in self-defense. In the movie theater killing, multiple witnesses saw what happened and have already stated that Oulson only threw popcorn, and that Reeves was the one to get violent.
Multiple victims: Many news stories haven’t focused on the fact that Oulson’s wife, Nicole Oulson, was also shot. As Reeves pulled his gun, Mrs. Oulson moved in front of her husband to shield him, and she was shot through her hand by the same bullet that killed him. Even when the law authorizes self-defense, it does not authorize shooting the spouse of your would-be “assailant.”
So what will happen? On the scene, deputies did not view Reeves’ actions as a Stand Your Ground defense. They arrested him, charging him with second-degree murder. While there are many ways the case could go from here, it is unlikely that Reeves will win an acquittal under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
Whether he’s convicted or acquitted, however, Mrs. Oulson has a right to sue Reeves for compensation—both for her own gunshot wound, and for the loss of her husband. While this cannot undo what happened, it does allow her to force him to pay for what he did. As with Trayvon’s family, Mrs. Oulson could win such a lawsuit whether the killer is convicted or not.
If you are the victim of a violent crime, you may be able to sue your attacker and recover damages. Contact the lawyers of Steinger, Iscoe & Greene and talk to us about your case for free.