Nebraska bar owner indicted in protest shooting death initially ruled self-defense

A Nebraska bar owner who fatally shot a man on a night of violent protests in Omaha in late May was indicted on manslaughter charges Tuesday by a grand jury — months after the shooting was ruled self-defense, according to reports.

Douglas County District Attorney Don Kleine last June originally ruled bar owner Jake Gardner’s actions in shooting protester James Scurlock, 22,  “were justified” after reviewing a video of the confrontation. Gardner is White and Scurlock was Black.

The protests and shooting came soon after George Floyd’s May 25 police custody death in Minneapolis.

Kleine soon after requested that a grand jury and special prosecutor review the case amid backlash against his decision.

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Special Prosecutor Frederick Franklin on Tuesday said the grand jury was charging Gardner with one count of manslaughter, attempted first-degree assault, terroristic threats and use of a firearm in connection with a felony, KETV-TV in Omaha reported.

“It’s stressful,” Gardner told KETV before the charges were announced. “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.”

Franklin said the grand jury reviewed multiple videos and got information from around 60 police interviews. He said much of the evidence that “undermined” the self-defense assessment came from Gardner himself.

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The grand jury reportedly had much more information to make a decision than when the self-defense ruling was made in June.

A memorial for James Scurlock is seen Sept. 16, 2020, near where he was shot and killed on May 30, in Omaha, Neb. (Associated Press)

A memorial for James Scurlock is seen Sept. 16, 2020, near where he was shot and killed on May 30, in Omaha, Neb. (Associated Press)

“The grand jury returned an indictment today against Jake Gardner,” Franklin said. “They were able to able to get evidence into Mr. Gardner’s state of mind, as a part of what was presented to them through this investigation.”

He said the manslaughter charge “does not rest solely on an analysis of the video that has been played in the media already” that reportedly showed Gardner pinned down by Scurlock at one point during their fight.

Franklin said jurors were able to get insight into Gardner’s “state of mind” and his actions before the shooting from his phone and Facebook account.

“There was evidence that was gathered and presented to the grand jury about activity that Jake Gardner was engaged in prior to even coming in contact with James Scurlock,” he said, according to KETV. “Evidence to reasonably be construed as an intent to use a firearm for purposes of killing someone. You will want to know what it is, and I can’t tell you about it. But what I can tell you is that that evidence comes primarily from Jake Gardner himself.”

Gardner posted on Facebook that night he planned a “military style fire watch” at his bar on May 30, NPR reported.

Franklin noted the jury’s decision was “simply charges” with a lower threshold than for a conviction and Gardner should be presumed innocent.

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“While this family is thankful, this family is also still frustrated that it took this process to occur,” state Sen. Justin Wayne, who represents the Scurlock family, told reporters Tuesday, according to NPR.