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Saturday, Sep 20, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Hypocrisy injected into theater shooting

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So, evidently we must add hypocrisy to the charges against Curtis Reeves Jr., the longtime Tampa police officer at the center of the notorious movie-house shooting in January. The same fellow who was infamously annoyed by a fellow theatergoer’s text-messaging during previews before a matinee screening of “Lone Survivor” had, himself, indulged in a bit of thumb-typing inside the Cobb Grove 16’s auditorium No. 10.

Looks bad. Looks real bad.

I mean, who was Reeves to get all over Chad Oulson about his digital correspondence when he’d indulged only — how did the AP describe it? ah, here it is — “moments” before? Seems it’s all pots and kettles.

About that. My Webster’s Collegiate dictionary describes a moment as “an indefinitely short period of time: instant.” Assuming that’s a reasonable definition, the time between Reeves’ text episode and when he rocked forward to ask Oulson to cut it out is anything but “moments.”

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To represent it otherwise is to distort any fair understanding of the word and the circumstances leading toward the fatal turn of events. The record shows Reeves responded to a text from his son, who’d reported he was running late, at 1:04 p.m. According to the surveillance video, Reeves didn’t first rock forward to ask Oulson to knock it off until 1:23; the shooting didn’t occur until 1:26.

The gap between 1:04 and 1:23 is 19 minutes, an interval no fair reporter could possibly describe as “moments.” Instead, shrinking nearly a third of an hour to “moments” strikes me as willfully provocative, a subtle attempt to shape the narrative in a way that further damns a 71-year-old who’s already in a heap of trouble.

Before we shove ahead, please note: This is not in any way a defense of the Reeves’ role in the hideous sequence that unfolded later. It is simply an attempt to achieve clarity.

The movie had a scheduled 1:20 p.m. starting time, which, as regulars know, is when previews begin. At 1:04 p.m., the house lights still would have been up, and nothing of consequence would have been on the screen. People would have been arriving, finding seats, settling in, ripping open candy wrappers and chatting.

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At 1:04 p.m., it is unlikely the first of the messages about shutting down electronics would have been shown. I can’t crawl inside his head, but absent the turn-’em-off announcement — Reeves seemed to be a stickler for rules — and with all the other routine commotion, I suspect even Curtis Reeves Jr. wouldn’t have growled about somebody else’s phone chiming and whistling the arrival and departure of text messages. Anyway, going with the benefit of the doubt, I’m declaring Reeves innocent on the charge of texting hypocrisy.

This exoneration changes nothing about succeeding events, the culmination of which even the shooter concedes was “stupid.”

That colossal understatement aside, saying Reeves killed Oulson because Oulson wouldn’t stop texting is also a mischaracterization. The fact is, when Curtis shot Chad is a tragedy in two acts.

The tension builds in act one, when Reeves asks Oulson to adhere to movie house etiquette and Oulson, concerned about his toddler daughter, refuses. It ratchets up when Reeves leaves to report Oulson’s conduct at the customer service kiosk.

In act two, Reeves returns, settles back down and, conceivably, considers the incident over. But Oulson, for whatever reason, baits the older man. Oulson stands and, according to documents released last week, chides him. Something flashes toward Reeves, bounces off him and winds up on the floor, possibly Oulson’s cellphone, which was found in Reeves’ row. Then comes the flying box of popcorn incident, and Reeves’ astonishing response.

The ultimate nature of Reeves’ decision will become a jury question, perhaps sometime this autumn.

And nobody in that room will arrive at his or her decision without wondering why these two couldn’t just see fit to give each other some space.

But here’s hoping they decide the case on pertinent facts, and that in the meantime public opinion is not stampeded by some outsider’s slippery attempt to reshape the narrative into something sadder and uglier than it already is.

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