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Man charged in theater shooting from Brooksville

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Published:   |   Updated: January 15, 2014 at 11:55 AM

On the Brooksville lawn of a retired Tampa police captain accused of shooting to death a texting movie-goer in suburban Pasco County sits a stone lawn ornament with a phrase carved into it: "May I always be the kind of person my dog thinks I am."

Some in the deed-restricted Mountainview subdivision, who know Curtis Reeves Jr., 71, couldn't understand how a neighbor they described as mild mannered and friendly could be accused of fatally shooting a man who was texting in the Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel at a Monday afternoon screening of "Lone Survivor."

One neighbor, who declined to speak on the record, said when moving in, Reeves helped any way he could, even helping relandscape the yard, removing trees and limbs, and lending them whatever they needed.

They had sit-downs together on Reeves' porch with he and his wife, finding wisdom and calmness in Reeves' comments, even in discussions about politics.

Others said he never spoke out about anything, tended to consider other perspectives and gave no indication to be a person easily-provoked to anger or violence.

He was commonly seen rounding the scenic, hillside neighborhood on walks with his wife, waving and smiling at neighbors.

During his 26 years with the Tampa Police Department, Reeves received outstanding evaluations.

Retired Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder was a lieutenant under Reeves' 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."

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.

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 his 1986 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.

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

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

On the porch, above the double front doors, are surveillance cameras.

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

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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