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Crime & Courts

Suspect in texting case got high evaluations as Tampa officer

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Published:   |   Updated: January 15, 2014 at 07:35 AM

TAMPA — The retired Tampa police captain accused of shooting to death a texting movie-goer in a suburban Pasco County theater Monday was a by-the-book, no-nonsense lawman who received outstanding evaluations during the 26 years he was with the department.

Curtis Reeves Jr., 71, is accused of fatally shooting a man who was texting in the Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel at an afternoon screening of “Lone Survivor.”

Retired Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder was a lieutenant under Reeves's supervision for several years. Holder oversaw the hostage negotiation team, which was part of the department's tactical response team commanded by Reeves in the 1980s and 1990s.

“He was the captain, I was the lieutenant,” Holder said Tuesday afternoon. “He was my supervisor and he was a great supervisor.” Reeves was not a hothead or risk taker, Holder said, but did run a tight operation.

“We were in many stressful situations and I never saw anything to indicate he would lose his cool,” said Holder, who became Tampa police chief in 1993, the same year Reeves retired. “He always was even-keeled. He was very knowledgeable of law enforcement and was by-the-book.

“But you should be,” Holder said. “He wasn't inflexible, but he was paid to do a job and he knew how to do the job.”

It's been years since he's spoken with Reeves, Holder said.

“I really feel bad about what happened to Curtis,” Holder said. “I feel bad about the victim, his family. It's mind-boggling that something like this can escalate into somebody dying.”

Retired deputy Chief Tom DePolis, who served in the department from 1969 to 1992, said he knew Reeves well and that the two collaborated in forming the tactical response team in the early 1970s.

He hadn't seen Reeves in about 20 years until the two met about a year ago at the funeral of a mutual friend, DePolis said.

“He seemed happy in retirement and was ... giving his attention to his toddler granddaughter,” DePolis said. “What happened at the movie theater seems so out of character for him I find myself still searching for something more that would explain his actions.

“I'm truly shocked and sickened by this and have overwhelming sympathy for both families,” he said. “One little girl is without her father, and another little girl is now separated from her grandfather.”

DePolis recalled Reeves as “always a professional and dedicated police officer” and signed off on several glowing evaluations in Reeves's personnel file.

Reeves served as a Tampa police officer from 1966 through 1993 and has had stellar evaluations through those years. His marks were listed as “outstanding” in almost every category, and a string of immediate supervisors almost always had good things to say about him. Typical was this line in his 1992 evaluation, his last before retirement: “As commander of the Tactical Response Team, Capt. Reeves has demonstrated the ability to deal effectively with people in highly stressful situations.”

The evaluations did not go without some criticism about haughtiness.

In 1984: a supervisor wrote: “Although he is effective in his dealing with the public, he sometimes demonstrates inflexibility that interferes with a resolution.”

In his1986 evaluation, a reviewer noted: “Capt. Reeves is extremely self-confident and this personality trait sometimes causes the public to react negatively in their impressions.”

When Reeves retired, it was DePolis who suggested he apply for the head security job at Busch Gardens.

Thom Stork, now the president and CEO of the Florida Aquarium, worked with Reeves at Busch Gardens for nearly a decade in the 1990s.

“He was head of security and I was head of marketing,” Stork said. “I was saddened to about hear this last night.”

He said Reeves was extremely capable as security chief at the theme park.

“What I can say, from my impressions of Curtis Reeves, is that he was a very straight-forward, nuts-and-bolts individual ... He came from a police background. He was very black-and-white, very by-the-book.

“He was responsible for the safety of millions of guests and thousands of employees and we wanted somebody of that personality,” Stork said. “He was that. He was very capable in my opinion.''

Rick Cochran, former Tampa police detective and senior vice president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, said he worked with Reeves both at the department and later during off-duty assignments at Busch Gardens. He said Tuesday that he could not believe the news about his former colleague.

“I was shocked,” said Cochran, a retired Air Force veteran who is running for Hillsborough County Commission. “Yeah, I was shocked.

“As a manager; as a captain,” Cochran said, “he was a top-notch guy.”

In 1990, Reeves was the liaison between the department and the emerging television show “Cops,” which began the year before. Producers had chosen Tampa police to do ride-alongs for a few nights during the show's second season.

“I think they got mostly routine police operations,” Reeves said in a Dec. 6, 1990 interview. “They weren't any shoot-outs or anything like that while they were here.”

Former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman said she knew Reeves, but remembers little about him.

No one answered the door Tuesday at Reeves' Hernando County home in the Mountainview community — a neighborhood shared by other current and retired law enforcement officers — though a television could be heard inside.

Several neighbors said they knew and were friends with Reeves, but none would speak on the record.

Reeves often was seen around the scenic, hillside neighborhood on walks with his wife, waving to and smiling at neighbors.

On the porch, above the double front doors, are surveillance cameras. In the front yard is a stone ornament with these words carved into it:

“May I always be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.”

Tribune reporter William March and Hernando Today reporter Matt Reinig contributed to this report.

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

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