Man accused in fatal 2014 moviegoer shooting: 'It was his life or mine'

PHOTO: Curtis Reeves, the former police captain accused of fatally shooting a man during a 2014 dispute in a Florida movie theater over texting, took the stand today in his Stand the Ground case.PlayWTVT
WATCH Man accused of killing moviegoer over texting testifies

In court testimony today, Curtis Reeves described the altercation in January 2014 that ended with his fatally shooting another moviegoer over texting, calling it at one point a "life-or-death struggle."

Reeves, 74, a former police captain and former amusement park security director, is accused of shooting and killing 43-year-old Chad Oulson on Jan. 13, 2014, in Pasco County, Florida, before a showing of "Lone Survivor," police said.

"At that point, it was his life or mine," Reeves testified, when asked by the defense why he shot Oulson that day.

If Circuit Court Judge Susan Barthle rules in favor of Reeves, he will receive immunity from prosecution and will leave the court a free man, with no criminal murder charges, under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

Should she decide Reeves did not meet the law's criteria during the encounter with Oulson, he will proceed at a later date to a criminal trial, where he may claim self-defense but may not utilize protection under the "stand your ground" law.

Prosecutors say Reeves provoked the confrontation, The Associated Press reported — which would exclude him from protection under the law.

Before the shooting, Reeves complained about Oulson's use of his phone to movie theater employees, authorities said at the time. When Reeves returned to the theater, the argument escalated.

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Witnesses told police that Oulson threw a container of popcorn at Reeves before being shot, police said. Oulson's wife, Nicole Oulson, was also shot, in the hand. She told ABC News in 2014 that her husband was texting their babysitter, who was watching their young daughter.

Reeves testified today that he and his wife were seated behind the Oulsons. During previews before the movie, Reeves said, he waited 15 seconds to 30 seconds before asking Chad Oulson to put away his cellphone. Reeves said Oulson responded with "Eff off or get the eff out of my face."

Reeves said he saw Nicole Oulson reach over and talk to Chad Oulson, so he sat back to see what would happen. When the cellphone remained out, Reeves testified, he went to speak to theater management. He said when he returned to the theater, Chad Oulson gave him a "stare." Reeves said that he noticed that Oulson did not have his phone out, so Reeves apologized in what he called a "goodwill gesture."

"I said, 'You're not on your phone. Sorry I involved theater management,'" Reeves said.

As he was sitting down, though, Reeves said, Oulson stood up quickly, turned around and "was just being loud."

"When I looked up, he was coming over the seat at me, across the front of where my wife was ... and I was hit in the face," Reeves said.

Reeves said Oulson hit him over his left eye, knocking his glasses to the side of his head.

'I can't get up. I can't get out. He's right in front of me.'

"Everything was blurry," Reeves said. "I was kind of dazed. I was disoriented. I was trying to get my thought processes back together as to what happened, because it was so unexpected."

Reeves said he could still hear Oulson yelling, using profanity and saying that he was texting his daughter. Reeves said he tried to get out of his seat to stand up but could not because he was still holding on to a container of popcorn. He said he tried to lean back in his seat to create distance between him and Oulson but there was a wall behind his row of seats.

Reeves said he could see Nicole Oulson trying to hold back her husband.

"I realize I'm trapped," Reeves said. "I can't get up. I can't get out. He's right in front of me. And he's trying to come over the chairs."

Reeves said that at some point he reached for his .380 semiautomatic handgun, which was in his pants pocket.

"He was suddenly right in front of me ... looking down at me, and he was yelling," Reeves said. "He was reaching for me."

"There's a thing where you see somebody getting ready to set up and to punch you, and he was getting ready to punch me, and I perceived that at some point ... That's when the pistol came out," he said.

Asked by defense lawyer Richard Escobar what he did with the pistol, Reeves said, "I shot him."

Asked whether he wanted to shoot Chad Oulson, Reeves said, "Absolutely not."

When Escobar asked him whether he thought Oulson would hurt him, Reeves said, "No question about it."

He spent the first two hours of his testimony today chronicling his nearly 27 years of experience in law enforcement as well as his later work in private security.

Reeves testified that he served multiple roles with the Tampa Police Department in Florida. He started as a patrolman before being promoted to a detective and later a sergeant. He created and designed a SWAT team for the department, and by the early 1980s rose to the rank of captain.

He said he became a program coordinator for the department and subsequently taught two to three classes at the police academy because of his extensive training in firearms. In 1988 he was diagnosed with cancer and, he said, was worried that he wouldn't be able to return to work.

After surgery and radiation treatment, he was able to return to the department, where he took over the vice-narcotics division. In 1993, he retired. He then took over as the director of security at Busch Gardens, a Tampa amusement park, where, he said, his focus was less on law enforcement and more on public relations and keeping the guests happy.

His lawyer spent a portion of the time showing the various certificates acquired by Reeves, including one from the FBI training school for effective communication and one from the National Rifle Association for teaching handgun safety to the public.

Reeves was initially denied bond, but he was freed in July 2014 after spending six months in a Pasco County jail and posting $150,000 bail, The Tampa Bay Times reported. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming self-defense.

ABC News staff contributed to story.

PHOTO: Chad Oulson, pictured here with his wife, Nicole in this undated photo posted on his Facebook page, was shot and killed in a movie theater in Pasco County, Fla. on Jan. 13, 2013. Chad Oulson/Facebook
Chad Oulson, pictured here with his wife, Nicole in this undated photo posted on his Facebook page, was shot and killed in a movie theater in Pasco County, Fla. on Jan. 13, 2013.