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Ex-cop arrested in fatal theater shooting a 'nice guy,' neighbor says

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
updated 4:55 PM EST, Tue January 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police files state shooter had mostly high marks during his time as officer
  • Curtis Reeves, 71, charged with second-degree murder in theater shooting
  • An ex-captain with Tampa police, Reeves helped set up tactical response team
  • He was "always smiling. I've never seen him angry," neighbor says of Reeves

(CNN) -- Those who know Curtis Reeves are stunned by news the former police captain is accused of fatally shooting a man after an argument over texting in a Wesley Chapel, Florida, movie theater. The Reeves they know is a friendly fellow, they told CNN affiliates.

"I thought it just can't be. He's just not that kind of person," said Elnora Brown, who told CNN affiliate WFTS she has been a Reeves family friend for 45 years.

Brown described Reeves as a good Christian and loving grandfather.

"I can't imagine what happened that he would do that," she told the station.

Bill Costas told CNN affiliate WFLA that the man described in news reports sounds like "a completely different guy" from the neighbor he has known for years.

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Reeves was a "very nice guy, always smiling. I've never seen him angry," Costas said. "Very helpful. If I needed help with something, he was there to help."

The 71-year-old was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the Monday shooting of Chad Oulson, 43, who was at the theater to watch "Lone Survivor" with his wife. Oulson's wife, Nicole, was shot in the hand as she tried to defend her husband, according to reports.

The 6-foot-1, 270-pound Reeves also was with his wife for the Monday matinee, and after arguing with Oulson about him texting his daughter, left the theater apparently to complain to management, police said.

A witness said Reeves returned "irritated," the argument continued and popcorn was thrown. Reeves then shot Oulson, sat down and put the gun in his lap, the witness said.

"The defendant advised that the victim turned and stood up, striking him in the face with an unknown object," a police report said. "The defendant advised that he removed the .380-semi-auto handgun from his pants pocket, firing one round, striking the victim, and that he was in fear of being attacked."

Reeves appeared Tuesday before Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper in Pasco County via video conference, standing at a podium wearing an olive-colored padded vest and handcuffs. Appearing dejected, he spoke only when questioned and made no statement about his actions.

A sensational crime that strikes many chords

Defense attorney Richard Escobar told the court that Reeves has close ties to the community, posed no danger to residents and was no threat to flee.

A standing-room-only crowd in the courtroom included many friends, family members and colleagues who stood ready to tell the court that Reeves had no propensity for violence and was a man of "great character," Escobar said.

Tepper was unswayed. She ruled that Reeves be held without bond and remanded him to custody.

Later, outside the courtroom, Escobar told reporters his client was "heartbroken" that a life was lost in the Monday theater incident.

Reeves served in the Navy and the Navy Reserves and joined the Tampa Police Department in 1966, where he was a commander for 16 to 17 years and also held posts as a homicide detective, property crimes detective and instructor, Escobar told the judge.

Reeves retired in 1993 as a captain with the Tampa Police Department, according to documents from his tenure as a Tampa police officer. Tampa police told CNN that Reeves was instrumental in establishing the department's first tactical response team.

Throughout his career as a Tampa police officer, he consistently got solid evaluations praising his work ethic and leadership. His file contained many letters praising his interaction with the community, driving record and problem-solving skills, according to more than 350 pages of documents provided by the Tampa Police Department.

"Capt. Reeves is highly adept at recognizing potential problems and utilizing available information to achieve positive results. He is frequently called upon to develop and implement department-wide programs concerning firearms and civil disorder," a 1992 evaluation states.

He also worked on several high-profile security details, including those of presidential candidate Ross Perot, Vice President Dan Quayle, President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who was president-elect at the time.

Among the rare negative remarks about his performance were two from earlier in his career. In 1971, his supervisors demanded a "marked improvement" after he demonstrated a "get-by attitude" and told bosses of his shortcomings, "I just goofed." Years later, a 1979 evaluation cited problems with his temperament.

"His demeanor is generally very professional. He has, however, occasionally allowed his temper to detrimentally affect his manner of dealing with his supervisors," the evaluation states.

After his retirement, Reeves served as director of security for Busch Gardens Tampa until 2005, said spokesman Travis Claytor, who would not comment on why Reeves' employment came to an end.

A hunter who has held licenses in Georgia and Ohio, Reeves moved in 2005 to Brooksville, Florida -- in Hernando County, adjacent to the county where the theater is located -- and WFLA reports he served as president of the county Crime Stoppers program from 2006 to 2007.

Reeves is a Jacksonville native who moved to Tampa as a child, Escobar told the court. He suffers from numerous ailments, including arthritis, bursitis, hypertension, high cholesterol and low oxygen levels in his blood.

He has been married to his wife, Vivian, since 1967 and has two children, Jennifer and Matthew, both in their 30s, and one grandchild, Escobar said.

According to CNN affillate WTSP, Reeves' son, Matthew, is a Tampa patrol officer with more than a decade of service.

CNN's Devon Sayers, Rachel Clarke and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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