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  • About Jack Strickland

    Jack Strickland is a retired AP writer who was nominated by our newspaper for The Pulitzer Prize. His writing about Florida prisons, cancer victims, sports, and just plain folks is a special treasury for readers. He is active in the war against cancer. He, himself, is a survivor. As a reporter he covered many of the major stories in Florida. He lives in Gainesville where he is an advocate for cancer patients of all ages. Jack finds special joy in getting sports stars and teams involved in the care young cancer victims. He claims that the athletes benefit from the involvement as much as the patients. He says he managed to miss many tackles as a football player long ago, and learned that defeat can be temporary and serve as the foundation for success.
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    Jack Strickland's Florida Tales...

    Capt. Reeves, trained to shoot first, ask questions later, could face prison fate worse than death

    February 10, 2014

    Statewide

    By Jack Strickland
    Retired police captain Curtis Reeves Jr. may never breathe free again.

    The 71-year-old distinguished veteran of everything good about dedicated police work sits alone in an isolated jail cell in the Pasco County Central Detention Center at Dade City, Fla. He is being held without bond.

    He is charged with second degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. Last week his attorneys pleaded for his pretrial release on bond. Hearings before the trial judge lasted two days as they pointed out everything good about Capt. Reeves.They documented Reeves’ stellar record of service as a law enforcement officer.

    They said Reeves had never fired his service weapon in anger during his long tenure as a peacekeeper. They argued that the shooting incident inside a movie theater that snuffed out a man’s life was a fluke that could never occur again.

    They argued that Reeves should be allowed to be free so he could help his lawyers prepare his defense. His family was in court supporting the plea for his release on bond.They pleaded for his release on house arrest at the very least. They said his family needed him and he needed them in these tough times.

    The State of Florida saw it differently. They said Reeves forfeited his right to live in a free and open society when he shot and killed Chad Oulson and wounded his wife, Nichol, in a fit of rage. They argued that public safety and the peace and dignity of the State of Florida demanded that Reeves remain in custody pending trial.

    Nichol Oulson appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and other television shows voicing her view that Reeves should never be released from Jail. She vowed to work tirelessly to make sure Reeves never sees the light of day again.

    She will have a powerful impact on any court that hears the case. The young widow is a well spoken attractive blond. The hardest of hearts are melted by her riveting account of of how Reeves’ bullet first went through her hand, shattering her ring finger where she wore her wedding band, before in penetrated her husband’s chest, causing his death.

    Tearfully, she explains how that bullet also shattered her whole world. She says she and her 23-month-old daughter will never fully recover. She wants Reeves to pay for what he did with the maximum sentence allowed by law.

    The judge denied bond and ordered that Reeves remain confined at the Pasco County Jail pending trial.

    Reeves attorneys vowed to appeal the ruling to a higher court.

    At the bond hearing witnesses testified. Not everyone agreed on what they had seen-or thought they saw-in the darkened theater where the shooting occurred. The theater had a scratchy infrared security camera video of the event. It seemed to remove all doubt about what actually happened.

    The video shows Reeves leaning forward, several times, confronting Oulson. Witnesses testified Reeves was demanding Oulson stop texting on his cell phone. Reeves got up and left his seat. Testimony stated he went to complain to the theater manager and the manager did not respond, immediately.

    Reeves returned to his seat and resumed confronting Oulson. Oulson and his wife stood with Oulson facing Reeves. Oulson snatched a box of popcorn from the grasp of Reeves and threw it at him. Reeves pulled his pistol and fired one shot. Testimony stated the gun jammed before a second shot could be fired.

    Off duty neighboring Sumter County sheriff’s deputy Corporal Alan Hamilton was seated a few seats away. He immediately went to Reeves’ side, took the gun, and ordered Reeves to remain seated.

    Mark Turner was seated close by. He tried to render aid to the Oulsons. He said Reeves’ wife, who was seated next to Reeves,  said to her husband, “That was no cause to shoot anyone.” And, Reeves responded, “Shut your fu**ing mouth. Don’t say another word.” Turner testified Ms. Reeves moved one seat over, leaving a vacant seat separating her and her husband.

    Witness Mark Turner testified Curtis Reeves said to him, “Holy f**k, what have I done. I can’t believe what I’ve done.”

    One thing is certain the lives of the Oulsons and Reeves are changed forever. Nothing they loved will ever be the same.

    Reeves is expected to plead self defense. He has said he was in fear for his life when Oulsen struck him in the face with an unknown object in the darkened theater. The video shows that object was a box of popcorn.

    In suburban Dade City, Florida,  Reeves can expect sympathy from a jury pool made up primarily of law-and-order citizens. It may be possible to hang the jury and get a mistrial if he is unable prove he acted appropriately when he discharged his gun.

    Reeves may be a victim of his police training. As a police officer he was trained to shoot to kill when he felt threatened to the point he was in fear for his life.

    That is the claim Reeves made after the shooting in the theater. Had he been on acting duty-and not retired- Capt. Reeves’ case would routinely be referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to determine if he acted appropriately.

    The FDLE always rules that the policeman’s actions, no matter how egregious, are always justified if he says he was in fear for his life. Reeves would have been returned to duty. The Oulson family would be left to seek justice in civil court where they could sue for financial compensation.

    Capt. Reeves was trained to devalue the sanctity of human life. All Florida police officers are. They are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.  It can amount to shooting an innocent man before taking a chance he might try to kill you.

    And, when you shoot, shoot to kill and empty your gun. A wounded assailant becomes much more dangerous. Take no chances. That is the training policemen receive to prepare them to serve in the hostile communities they patrol.

    Perhaps it is significant that at the jail interrogation room after he was placed under arrest, former Capt. Reeves schooled the detectives who were questioning him. That’s what he did best as a police captain.

    He was a teacher and role model for younger officers. The interrogation tapes reveal him gently answering their questions and complementing them on knowing which questions to ask—and how to ask them. He offered advice on better ways to do the job. Reeves, in his own mind, is forever a captain and a teacher.

    He said he didn’t know what struck him in the face. He was afraid Oulson was going to overpower him in an attack by a much bigger and younger man . .  . he said he was in fear for his life.

    Then Reeves added, “As soon as I pulled the trigger I said, ‘Oh, this is stupid’.  I wish I could get a ‘do over.’ I would move to another seat. . . “

    In the blink of an eye, a shot was fired and the whole world changed, forever. Chad Oulson is dead.

    As this case moves forward, Reeves may envy the fate of Oulson. Life in prison may be a fate worse than death for an old man with a history of distinguished police work who is thrown into the violent world of prisoners who hate policemen.