Witnesses claim their accounts of the events leading up to the death of a Black protester have been ignored by law enforcement.
James Scurlock died on May 30 in Omaha, Nebraska, after he was shot and killed by Jake Gardner. The 22-year-old Scurlock was in the streets to protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day while he was being detained by four now-former Minneapolis police officers. The shooting occurred outside The Hive Bar and Gatsby’s Bar, an establishment Gardner owned in Omaha’s Old Market neighborhood. Windows at the bar were broken during the demonstration, according to a June 1 news briefing from Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine.
Gardner’s father, David, reportedly pushed some protesters when asking them to leave the bar area. That’s when Jake Gardner intervened, Kleine said. Someone noticed he was armed and reportedly yelled that he had a gun on him. At 130 pounds, a 5-foot, 3-inch Alayna Melendez, 19, tackled Gardner in an attempt to disarm him.
“I thought, I need to take this man down,” she told Yahoo News. Gardner, a former Marine who reportedly had an expired concealed weapon permit, fired “two warning shots” with Melendez reportedly on top of him. Gardner was tackled a second time, this time by Scurlock. He reportedly yelled “get off me” repeatedly before firing his gun again; the bullet hit Scurlock in the clavicle.
“If anybody should’ve gotten shot it should’ve been me,” said Melendez. “The unfortunate reality is I’m stuck here thinking I caused his death, or I could’ve prevented more.”
Less than 36 hours after Scurlock’s death, during the June 1 news briefing, Kleine announced he would not pursue charges related to the death. He said his decision was based on a review of video footage and an interview with Gardner.
“There was a consensus… that the actions of the shooter were justified,” Kleine said during a news conference on June 1. “There wasn’t any big disagreement about what happened here.”
Witnesses disagree and want to tell their side of the story and have accused law enforcement of ignoring their efforts.
“Nobody talked to me after,” said Melendez. “They didn’t try to talk to anybody at the scene.”
“We weren’t given any phone numbers, any badge numbers, absolutely nothing,” Derek Stephens, another protester, told Yahoo News.
“I understand it was a hectic situation and everything,” he added. “But we were all standing there trying to plead with these cops, like, ‘If you’re going to stand in and push us forward, can you radio in your senior officer, your superior, and have them come talk to us?’ ”
His luck didn’t improve after he left the scene.
“I tried to call and contact a bunch of numbers on Sunday, and I got no response. I figured, OK, it’s not a weekday. I’ll call back tomorrow,” said Stephens. “I spent a solid four hours on Monday trying to call.”
Stephens also leveled accusations at David Gardner, who he claims made racist comments.
“He said the N-word multiple times,” said Stephens. “At one point he turned to the group and he called everyone ‘N-word lovers.’ He yelled we were ‘all f***ing N-word lovers.’”
This type of language, say relatives of the Gardner family, is not unheard of when it comes to the family. Jenny Heineman, Jake Gardner’s cousin, said he was “raised in an absolutely steaming, giant pot of racism.”
“I can tell you that for decades I watched this guy, Jake’s father, sit around with the rest of the men in that clan and talk with complete hatred and disgust about ‘n*****s and k***s and Mexicans and sand n*****s,’” she said. Two other relatives made similar claims to Yahoo News but chose to remain anonymous.
Kleine agreed to call for a grand jury to review the case. Additionally, there are reports of a special prosecutor since being appointed, though it’s not clear when the investigation would begin. It all could take a few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.