Curtis Reeves, 71, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 43-year-old Chad Oulson on Monday. Reeves was ordered held without bond Tuesday pending another hearing.
As a police officer for more than two decades until his retirement in 1993, Reeves regularly received outstanding evaluations and numerous letters of commendation for his leadership skills and training he led for other agencies on gun safety and other topics.
Still, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said Tuesday: "It didn't matter what he had done previously in his life. You don't shoot someone over a texting incident."
As a police officer, Reeves was often praised for his problem-solving and ability to manage stressful situations.
"Captain Reeves not only has the ability to act decisively when necessary but has the foresight to initiate the proper course of action to avoid conflict," a supervisor remarked in one job performance review.
However, early in his career, one supervisor noted: "Reeves has a tendency to be impatient in regards to legal matters and practices now in force ... and may be abrupt with complainants in some areas of the city."
In 1968, he was reprimanded for carelessly handling a city weapon.
"He must have just snapped," said neighbor Joe D'Andrea, who described Reeves as a friendly, "stand-up" guy. "I'm trying to put all of this together."
Pasco County Sheriff's officials say Reeves initially asked Oulson to stop texting at the theater in Wesley Chapel, a suburb about a half-hour north of downtown Tampa.
Sheriff's Detective Allen Proctor wrote that Reeves spoke to Oulson during the movie previews, then got up and informed management.
When Reeves returned to his seat "additional words were exchanged" and Oulson threw a bag of popcorn at Reeves, the report said.
After officers read him his rights, Reeves told the detective that Oulson struck him in the face with an unknown object, and that's when he removed a .380-caliber gun from his pants pocket. The report said Reeves fired the gun and struck Oulson once in the chest and that he "was in fear of being attacked."
The sheriff said at a news conference that Reeves' son - who was off duty from his job as a Tampa officer - was walking into the theater when the shooting happened. Nocco said Reeves briefly struggled with an off-duty deputy but released the weapon. The gun was jammed and unable to fire again.
Pasco Sgt. Steve Greiner was among the first officers in the theater. When asked about Reeves' demeanor, Greiner replied: "He was very calm. He was seated in the chair, looking at the screen."
At the hearing, Judge Lynn Tepper said she found the evidence significant enough to warrant the no-bond order.
Reeves faces life in prison if convicted. He only spoke once during his court appearance, to say "Yes, ma'am" to the judge when she asked him if he could afford to hire his own attorney. Reeves appeared in court via a video link from the jail.
Reeves' attorney, Richard Escobar, argued that his client should be released because of his ties to the community.
Escobar said the probable cause document was "quite weak" and that Reeves was defending himself.
"The alleged victim attacked him," Escobar said, adding that Oulson threw something, possibly popcorn, at Reeves. "At that point in time he has every right to defend himself."
The judge said that throwing "an unknown object does not equal taking out a gun" and shooting someone.
Escobar said Reeves has lived in the Tampa Bay area almost his entire life. Reeves has two grown children.
Reeves' application to join the Tampa Police Department shows that he served in the U.S. Navy from 1961 to 1963 as a machinists' mate on a submarine. After an honorable discharge, he worked as a truck driver and as a warehouse worker.
Neighbors said Reeves and his wife moved to a rural subdivision in Hernando County about 10 years ago.
Everyone in the neighborhood knew Reeves was a retired police officer, said D'Andrea, the neighbor.
"He was a stand-up guy in the neighborhood," D'Andrea said.
Reeves and his wife were friendly with the neighbors, often attending house parties, said D'Andrea. The couple also owned a motorcycle and enjoyed taking long rides.
Reeves was instrumental in establishing the Tampa Police Department's first tactical response team, that agency's spokeswoman said. He retired in 1993 and later worked security at the Busch Gardens theme park. He also served on the Crimestoppers board of Hernando County.
Devon Detrapani and her husband, Joseph, were friends with the Oulsons and the men worked together at Sky Powersports, a motorcycle and off-road vehicle dealer.
Chad Oulson was the company's finance manager and a hard worker, Detrapani said. He rode dirt bikes on the weekend, but his true love was his baby daughter, Lexi.
"They are awesome parents," said Devon Detrapani. "They love that little girl so much."
Detrapani said Oulson was texting with his daughter's daycare on the afternoon he was shot. She said Oulson was a kind man with no anger issues.
"He is a very nice guy," she said. "He would give the shirt off his back to help someone."
Associated Press writers Curt Anderson and Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed to this report.