The North Star has dropped its paywall during this COVID-19 crisis so that pertinent information and analysis is available to everyone during this time. This is only possible because of the generous support of our members. We rely on these funds to pay our staff to continue to provide high-quality content. If you are able to support, we invite you to do so here.
A white bar owner was charged by a grand jury on Sept. 15 in the fatal shooting of a 22-year-old Black man during Black Lives Matter protests in Omaha on May 30. Jake Gardner was charged with four felonies in the death of James Scurlock.
More than three months after Gardner shot and killed Scurlock outside his Old Market bar, he was charged with manslaughter, attempted first-degree assault, making terroristic threats and use of a weapon to commit a felony. The 38-year-old faces up to 95 years in prison if convicted, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
On June 1, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced he wouldn’t charge Gardner because Gardner claimed he shot Scurlock in self-defense. Despite his claims, Omaha Police continued the investigation into the fatal incident. Investigators interviewed about 60 witnesses and gathered new evidence, Special Prosecutor Frederick Franklin said on Sept. 15.
Ultimately, it was Gardner’s own words and actions that led to his indictment.
Gardner’s Own Words Prompt His Indictment
“That evidence comes primarily from Jake Gardner himself,” Franklin said, according to KETV. “The grand jury was able to have information from his Facebook Messenger account. They were able to review video from inside Mr. Gardner’s business.”
Franklin said he believes that the evidence will show an intentional use of a firearm to kill someone.
“I expected to ultimately end up at the conclusion of their decision-making, to stand in front of the press and say the same thing that Don Klein said, which was that the shooting was justifiable self-defense,” Franklin said. “That was my initial reaction. But I can tell you that there is evidence that undermines that. And again, that evidence comes, primarily from Jake Gardner himself.”
The retired federal prosecutor did not go into detail about the manslaughter charge, but he did provide information about the other three charges against Gardner. Franklin said that video shows Gardner flashing his gun as he confronted Scurlock and others when his father was pushed down. Video evidence also shows the restaurant owner firing two warning shots when he was tackled from behind by a woman.
Franklin said that the weapon use charge was connected to the other three felonies Gardner was charged with. While Nebraska law allows individuals to claim self-defense if they have reasonable belief their life or the lives of others are in danger, “the use of deadly force shall not be justifiable…if the actor, with the purpose of causing death or serious bodily harm, provided the use of force against himself in the same encounter.”
The prosecutor also made a note about allegations of racism and why the grand jury did not charge the case as a hate crime.
“There’s been discussion about whether Jake Gardner is a racist,” Franklin said, according to the Omaha World-Herald. “I’m not commenting on whether or not that evidence was presented to the grand jury. …Being a racist is not against the law.”
Timeline of Events
Scurlock was shot and killed by Gardner during a fight in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 30. The 22-year-old was participating in protests related to the killing of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis days earlier.
Videos of the incident show the lead up to the shooting, CNN reported. Gardner’s father was seen in one video asking protesters outside The Gatsby bar, which is owned by Gardner, to leave. Gardner’s father pushed one protester and was pushed back by an unidentified man before Gardner intervened.
In one video, Gardner lifted his shirt to show protesters that he had a handgun tucked into his waistband. He shot two warning shots after two people jumped on his back, Klein said in June. Moments later, authorities said Scurlock got involved. Gardner claimed he was put in a chokehold and that he begged the individual to get off of him.
Klein said that Garner fatally shot Scurlock in the clavicle. Attorney Justin Wayne, who represents Scurlock’s family, said the 22-year-old was simply trying to protect a family member and friend.
Scurlock’s Family Responds to Indictment
After hearing of the indictment, Wayne told reporters that the Scurlock family was thankful but frustrated it took so long to charge Gardner.
“While this family is thankful, this family is also still frustrated that it took this process for it to occur,” Wayne said, according to KETV. “We have to remind people that this is a celebration, it is a day to be thankful. It’s a day to be thankful that we’re starting the process but we still have a long way to go.”
Wayne noted that the slow process also highlighted the issue of racial injustice. “This case and the two individuals involved in this case, one who can’t tell their story right now, shows a bigger picture of the justice we’re actually looking for. That everybody is treated equitably before the law and until we get that, we’re always gonna have this injustice,” he said. “They’ll never get their brother back, they’ll never get their son back.”
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.