WESLEY CHAPEL — The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is fighting an effort by Curtis Reeves Jr.’s attorney to take a deposition from one of its high-ranking officers.
An attorney for Sheriff Chris Nocco filed a motion for a protective order this week, saying Col. Jeff Harrington has no first-hand knowledge of the case and would not be able to provide relevant information about the investigation into the Jan. 13 fatal shooting at a Wesley Chapel movie theater..
Reeves, 71, a retired Tampa police captain, faces a charge of second-degree murder in the death of Land O’ Lakes resident Chad Oulson, 43, who was shot in the chest during an argument with Reeves that began over Oulson texting during previews before a movie.
Richard Escobar, the attorney for Reeves, wants to take a deposition from Harrington on Aug. 15, the same day that six sheriff’s detectives and sergeants are scheduled to be deposed. Escobar said Friday he also expects to depose Nocco at some point.
Nocco’s attorney, Lindsay Faroni Moore, argues in the motion that the state attorney’s office did not list Harrington as a witness in the case and does not intend to call him at trial.
Escobar disputed that and provided a copy of a state attorney’s witness list that included Harrington.
Moore also cited case law in which courts have held that heads of government agencies can’t be compelled to give depositions unless it’s established the testimony is “necessary, relevant and unavailable from other sources.”
Otherwise, her motion quoted a court ruling as saying, agency heads could end up being deposed in virtually every case.
Moore wrote that the sheriff’s office is the investigating agency in numerous pending criminal prosecutions in the Sixth Judicial Circuit.
“It would cause the Pasco Sheriff’’s Office and the colonel great inconvenience, annoyance, undue burden and expense to set a precedent that the colonel is subject to deposition in each of those cases simply because he is chief deputy of the sheriff’s office,” the motion said.
Escobar discounted that argument.
“I find it somewhat comical that two high-ranking officers with the sheriffs’ office were very eager to go to the media and talk about this investigation, but are frightful about being cross examined by me,” Escobar said.
He said Harrington and Nocco were both at the crime scene and he believes they participated in the decision-making process that led to the charges against Reeves.
Escobar said the sheriff’s office is “hiding behind this public figure shield in an effort not to be deposed.” He said Nocco had no problem speaking about the case at press conferences and had told reporters that it was determined during the investigation that this was not a stand-your-ground case.
Kevin Doll, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, acknowledged that Harrington was at the scene, but said he did not speak to Reeves or any witnesses and “we don’t feel he is needed at the trial.” Doll said Harrington’s role at the crime scene was to make sure “the troops who are actually doing the investigation have everything they need.”
It would be highly unusual for the sheriff’s command staff -- or the sheriff himself -- to be deposed in a homicide case, Doll said.
Escobar also cited comments Nocco made to the press after sheriff’s detectives shot and killed an unarmed suspect in a Zephyrhills drug case. Nocco defended his detectives, saying they feared for their lives when the suspect didn’t respond to an order to show them his hands.
Escobar has argued that Oulson threw his cellphone at Reeves, and Reeves was in fear when he fired the shot that killed Oulson.
“There appears to be a double standard for law enforcement officers, acting as law enforcement officers, who shoot in self defense vs. a lay person who shoots in self defense,” Escobar said.