Omaha bar owner Jake Gardner took his own life Sunday, September 20, according to his attorneys, after being indicted in the shooting of a 22-year-old Black man named James Scurlock on May 30 during the protests ignited by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Gardner and Scurlock had been in an altercation outside a bar Gardner owned before the shooting, and after hours of interviews with Gardner and a review of videos of the incident, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine found the shooting was justifiable self-defense.
According to Kleine, Scurlock had Gardner in a chokehold before Gardner shot him. 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.”
But “after consulting with elected officials who represent predominantly black neighborhoods,” Kleine later asked for a grand jury and special prosecutor to review the case, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The outlet reported that Kleine turned the evidence over to Fred Franklin, a seasoned U.S. attorney and a former leader of the Midlands Bar Association of black attorneys. Franklin brought the case before a grand jury.
That grand jury found reason enough to charge Gardner. According to BuzzFeedNews, Gardner was indicted on September 15 on four counts, including “manslaughter, attempted first-degree assault, use of a firearm, and terror threats.”
Gardner Was in Oregon & Was Set to Turn Himself in on the Day He Killed Himself
According to Gardner’s attorneys, Stu Dornan and Tom Monaghan, Gardner was set to turn himself in on September 20. But the Omaha World-Herald reported that he shot himself “outside a medical clinic in suburban Portland, Oregon” and local police found the 38-year-old at about 12:20 p.m.
In a press conference held by Dornan and Monaghan, Dornan delivered the news of Gardner’s suicide and spoke of how the former Marine had sustained two traumatic brain injuries while serving tours in Iraq early in that war, saying, “He paid a tremendous price for his valor and his efforts.”
According to Dornan, Gardner, who received disability payments for his brain injuries, said that the night of the shooting he “felt that he was in the war zones. That night, outside of his bar with the violence, the tear gas, and the mass confusion.”
And unfortunately, there are two men who have died in a terrible tragedy. It’s a terrible tragedy for the Omaha community. It’s a terrible tragedy for James Scurlock and his family. Our condolences are with them and the condolences from the Gardner family. It is a terrible tragedy for the Gardner family and a terrible tragedy for this community. That night that in the old market was a crossroads of where anger and fear met. And unfortunately, violence ensued, and two young men, as a result of that, have lost their life.
This violence must stop. The justice system must be allowed to do its work. Cases should be decided in the courtroom and not on social media. In the context of public opinion.
Immediately after the shooting Gardner was called out on social media, with some saying he was a known racist in the community. Others noted how he’d posted on Facebook just hours before Scurlock was killed that he was going to his bar to stand watch during the protests. He wrote, “Just when you think ‘what else could 2020 throw at me?’ Then you have to pull 48 hours of military style firewatch 🤷♂️ 🔥 👀.”
Heavy reached out to Gardner to ask for his side of the story shortly after the shooting at the end of May, and about a week later he responded that he agreed his side should be told but then he never responded when pressed further for an interview.
Dornan Says He’s ‘Angry’ He Didn’t Get to Defend Gardner Because He Believes Gardner Was Acting in Self-Defense
According to Dornan, all the evidence, including the videos, showed that Gardner was acting in self-defense. That, coupled with his PTSD and the general confusion during the protests, led to the shooting, but Dornan said Gardner “was definitely afraid of coming back here because he felt he would not get a fair trial, and who can blame him. … So yes, I am angry. I am angry at the rush to judgment. I am angry at not having an opportunity to defend a man who acted in self-defense, three times, and was found to have acted in self-defense, three times.”
Later in the press conference, Monaghan said Gardner was eager to prove his innocence, saying, “He believed that he was innocent. And he was anxious to come back here and do that. He was of course disappointed by the grand jury and the number of felonies that they charged him with. He was scared when he heard that contrary to what he believed that there was an arrest warrant for him. He was afraid he was likely to get shot on the way back. But he was anxious to come back and prove that he was not guilty.”
Monaghan said that Gardner had received “numerous” death threats and thought someone may try to kill him, though Monaghan said he didn’t keep track of the death threats and didn’t think them very credible. But, he said, “You never know what some crazy person is likely to do.”