Jake Gardner is an Omaha, Nebraska, bar owner who witnesses say shot and killed a young black man outside of his business last night as protests raged in the city. Gardner shot the victim in self defense and will not be charged, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said at a press conference Monday. Police identified the victim as 22-year-old James Scurlock. Gardner is white and Scurlock was black.
Kleine said after reviewing video it was determined Gardner was justified in shooting Scurlock. Kleine said, “There was damage to property and Mr. Scurlock was killed.” He also said Scurlock had Gardner in a chokehold during a scuffle. He said social media rumors that Gardner had used a racial slur were deemed to be untrue. Kleine added, “I hope that this great community that we live in can get through this without disruption. This is the decision that we’ve made.”
Around midnight Saturday, Omaha Police tweeted that someone had been shot at 12th and Harney and the suspect “was at large.” Not long after they updated that the “suspect was in custody.” Gardner’s name was confirmed by the Omaha World-Herald.
A bar called The Hive is at that location, and the 38-year-old Gardner is the owner of the bar and other local businesses, according to his LinkedIn account. Police have withheld the name of the shooter since the incident happened at around 11 p.m. last night, though Gardner is well known in Omaha and there were many witnesses.
Gardner was held in police custody until Monday, when he was set to be released after Kleine declined to press charges.
Here is what you need to know about Jake Gardner:
1. There Is Video on Social Media of the Shooting
While police have not named Gardner, social media lit up with accusations that Gardner shot 22-year-old Scurlock outside in front of the Hive Bar. In the video of the shooting circulating online, the footage is shaky but it shows a confrontation between two men, one white and one black, on the sidewalk.
There are many people standing around and two people can be heard saying, “This N** got a gun!,” repeatedly. One says, “It’s not worth it N***— he’s got a gun!”
Then there is commotion around the men making it hard to see what happens right before two gunshots ring out and the video ends.
Police issued a press release Sunday afternoon identifying the victim as Scurlock but not naming a suspect. However, they said, “The Omaha Police Department is not currently looking for any suspects. Investigators are in the process of reviewing all collected evidence, video, witness interviews and conferring with the Douglas County Attorney’s office.”
Police said the investigation is still ongoing and are asking for information from witnesses.
Omaha Chief of Police Todd Schmaderer said in a press briefing on Saturday that they made 51 arrests Saturday night. Most of those arrested were white, he said.
Of the shooting, Schmaderer said they did detain “somebody who fired that weapon” and the person is still in police custody. No charges have been filed on the shooter. According to Schmaderer it is the county attorney’s decision whether or not to press charges.
2. Gardner, Who Owns a Bar in Omaha & Served in the Marines for 5 Years, Posted on Facebook About Being on ‘Military Style Firewatch’ Before the Shooting
Gardner is a Marine veteran, according to his Facebook page, which has been deleted or made private since Heavy’s initial review. He served as a non-commissioned officer in the infantry from 2000 to 2005. He is an Omaha native, graduating from Millard West High School in 2000. He later studied at Metropolitan Community College and Humboldt State University, he said on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Gardner has owned The Gatsby, a dance and night club, in Omaha since November 2019, according to his Facebook profile. He has owned The Hive Rock Club and Art Gallery since 2011. His third business, Surreal Cereal Bar, was also opened in November 2019. He is also the founder and CEO of AmeriGreen LLC and EON Hospitality Management.
At 10:15 p.m. Saturday, not long before Scurlock was shot and killed, Gardner posted on Facebook, “Just when you think ‘what else could 2020 throw at me?’ Then you have to pull 48 hours of military style firewatch 🤷♂️ 🔥 👀”
3. People on Social Media are Saying Gardner Is a Racist, While Others Say He Was Protecting His Property
Many friends sent messages of support on Gardner’s Facebook page after he announced he would be on patrol at his bar during the protests. After the shooting, many commenters started calling him a murderer who needs to be arrested, while others stayed in support of Gardner, saying they’re praying for him.
Protests around the nation over the last few days were sparked by the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer, which was caught in a video that showed officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes until he was rendered unconscious. Though Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on May 29, civil unrest continues to grow around the nation with protests turning violent and destructive.
Many on social media are accusing Gardner of being racist and provoking Scurlock, while others say he was protecting his property and they would do the same thing. The witness who posted the video said Gardner stopped Scurlock as he was walking by.
Heavy has reached out to Gardner to get his side of the story and is awaiting a reply.
Gardner’s bar The Hive is themed around the band 311. After the shooting, the band posted on Instagram, “Our hearts are breaking for a young man named James Scurlock who was killed protesting last night in our hometown of Omaha following the brutal death of George Floyd.”
The band added, “James was killed by a longtime fan of 311. We do not stand for bigotry or prejudice of any kind and denounce these senseless killings and those responsible. Peace, Love Unity and Respect. Let’s keep it that way. This hatred needs to stop and we need to stand up and work together to end it.”
4. Local News Reports Show Gardner Has a History of Issues With Police & Has Been in Hot Water on Social Media for His Comments on Transgender People
According to the Omaha World-Herald, Gardner “suggested transgender women should not use the women’s restroom unless they have had their ‘appendage’ removed and their state identification changed,” igniting a “Facebook Firestorm” in 2016. Gardner told the paper, “The last thing I would want to do is hurt a member of (the transgender) community, but people’s feelings are going to be hurt when you bring something up that is sensitive.”
“I’m asking transgender folk to use the unisex … bathroom,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a big ask.”
Some people were supportive of Gardner while others were upset by his comment, which he said was just supposed to be just a comment to friends.
In September 2019 Gardner made the paper again. This time he was accused of not complying with police when an officer came to the Hive Bar on a call for a bleeding unconscious man in April of that year. According to the Omaha World-Herald, a security guard at the bar wouldn’t let the officer in, and Gardner was accused of being combative toward the officer. That offense could have caused Garnder to have his liquor license suspended.
According to the paper, he told liquor commissioners it was just a misunderstanding. He and the security officer were trying to tell the officer where to go in the crowded bar, saying, “I don’t believe it was combative,” Gardner said of the discussion. He added that yelling over the noise of the crowded bar might have led to that interpretation.
Gardner got off with a warning in that case.
5. A GoFundMe for Gardner’s Anticipated Legal Fees Was Started but Taken Down
The GoFundMe for Gardner says he is a former Marine who was “forced to defend himself” Saturday night, and set a goal for $10,000. The page was taken down. While it is not clear why it was taken down, here is what it said:
Jake is a former United States Marine and local business owner in Omaha, NE. Many folks know Jake for his love of downtown and for his loyal companion Bron. During the riots on Saturday night there was an incident outside of Jake’s business and he was forced to defend himself. Few details are available at this time, but it goes without saying that Jake will have substantial costs going forward defending himself, and his livelihood. 100% of all proceeds will go to Jake, Bron, and any necessary legal defense. Further details will be provided as available and prudent. Thank you for your assistance and support!
A GoFundMe for Scurlock’s family has already raised over $65,000, with many donors writing #blacklivesmatter in their comments.
Scurlock’s father, who is also named James, told the Omaha World-Herald, “Last night I lost a son. My kids lost a brother. His daughter lost a father. … We want them to go to court.” He called on Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine to prosecute Gardner.