A grand jury has charged a white bar owner who killed a young black man during protests in Omaha—more than three months after the local prosecutor quickly declared it a case of self-defense.
Community outrage over the initial decision not to prosecute Jake Gardner, 38, led to the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into the May 30 shooting of James Scurlock, 22.
On Tuesday, the special prosecutor, Fred Franklin, announced the grand jury had voted to charge Gardner with manslaughter, use of a firearm in commission of a felony, attempted first-degree assault, and terroristic threats.
Franklin said the panel was presented with more evidence that police dug up in the last three months—including evidence “about activity that Jake Gardner was engaged in prior to even coming in contact with James Scurlock.”
“That evidence can reasonably be construed as an attempt to use a firearm for purposes of killing someone,” he added.
Franklin did not describe that evidence but said grand jurors had access to material from Gardner’s cellphone, his Facebook Messenger account, and video from inside his bar.
The minute-long confrontation outside the The Gatsby bar was caught on video. It showed Gardner, an ex-Marine, and his 68-year-old father standing outside the bar as a night of protests devolved into vandalism.
The father walked down the street to confront Scurlock and several other people, shoved one of them, and then got pushed back about 10 feet.
Jake Gardner then confronted the group and showed that he was carrying a gun. Moments later, two of the young people charged at Gardner and knocked him into a puddle on the street—at which point he fired two shots he claimed were warnings, sending them running.
It appeared from the video that Scurlock then jumped on top of Gardner, who “fired over his back” and hit Scurlock in the clavicle, killing him.
Gardner told investigators that Scurlock had him in a chokehold and he feared for his life.
Franklin said that when he first took the case, after an initial survey of the early evidence, he expected to come to the same conclusion the local prosecutor had—that Gardner acted in self-defense.
But, he added, “there is evidence that undermines that—and that evidence comes primarily from Jake Gardner himself.”
Gardner could face decades in prison if convicted. In an interview with KETV before the decision was announced, he said, “I’m more anxious now than when I was flying to Iraq. I was in from the end of 2000 til the end of 2004. All trained up by 9/11. I was there in 2003 during the invasion and in Haiti in 2004 to break up the civil unrest.”
Standing with Scurlock’s family after the charging announcement, attorney Justin Wayne said, “Today is not a day of celebration, it’s a day to be thankful.”
But, he added, there should not have been a need for a special prosecutor and grand jury. The case, he said, underscored the unequal way that black and white residents are treated by the justice system.
“The fact of the matter is, if you’re black growing up in Omaha, and you brandish a gun, and you run from the cops, and you threaten somebody, you don’t walk away with a $200 fine for disorderly conduct,” Wayne said.