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Grand Jury Rejects White Bar Owner’s Self-Defense Claim In Killing of Nebraska Black Protester, Indicts Him for Manslaughter

On Tuesday a grand jury rejected claims of self-defense and indicted a white bar owner for manslaughter in the May killing of a Black protester earlier this year.

Jake Gardner, a 38-year-old bar owner and former Marine, is facing four felony charges after a Nebraska grand jury indicted him for manslaughter in the shooting death of 22-year-old Black man James Scurlock.

Scurlock was fatally shot by Gardner outside of the Gatsby Bar in Omaha, Nebraska, during a Black Lives Matter protest on May 30. The grand jury rejected his claim of self-defense.

James Scurlock. (Photo: KMTV News YouTube screenshot)

“I can tell you that there is evidence that undermines [claims of self-defense],” special prosecutor Fred Franklin said. “And that evidence comes primarily from Jake Gardner himself.”

It isn’t clear if the jury voted unanimously to indict Gardner, but Nebraska state law requires 12 out of 16 jurors to indict.

In addition to manslaughter, Gardner also faces three other felony charges including attempted first-degree assault, making terroristic threats and weapon use.

Gardner, the owner of the Gatsby Bar, encountered Black Lives Matter protesters outside the building on the night of the shooting.

Surveillance footage shows that Scurlock and his friends got into a conflict with Gardner after someone in the crowd pushed Gardner’s 69-year-old father. After Scurlock and his friend stepped closer to the younger Gardner, he flashed a gun. Cellphone footage captured him warning, “Keep the f-ck away from me.”

Two protesters jumped on Gardner and knocked him to the ground, when he then fired two shots. Scurlock jumped on Gardner’s back as he was getting to his feet, and Gardner, after demanding the young Black man get off him, switched the gun to his left hand and fired the fatal shot over his shoulder.

Gardner said he acted in self-defense and that Scurlock had him in a chokehold at the time. Citing the allegation of the chokehold, Douglas County District Attorney Donald Kleine agreed with Gardner’s claim that he acted in self-defense. However, amid protests and public pressure, in June Kleine requested that a grand jury review the case.

Franklin, who led the grand jury challenged the narrative that Gardner was acting in self-defense on Tuesday, saying: “Jake Gardner was threatening the use of deadly force in the absence of being threatened with a concomitant deadly force by James Scurlock or anyone who was associated with him.”

The weekend of the shooting, just days after the death of George Floyd, Gardner said on Facebook that he planned “to pull military-style firewatch” at his bar.

Jake Gardner. (Photo: Lincoln Star News/Twitter)

Franklin said evidence shows Gardner had “intent to use a firearm for purposes of killing someone” prior to the incident.

Scurlock’s brother Nicholas Harden said he was trying to protect people when he jumped on Gardner. “He has a heart of gold. Anybody can tell you that,” he said.

The grand jury did not charge Gardner with a hate crime, although customers and relatives accused him of racism, and claimed that racist language led up to the shooting, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

“There’s been discussion about whether Jake Gardner is a racist,” Franklin said. “I’m not commenting on whether or not that evidence was presented to the grand jury. … Being a racist is not against the law.”

Scurlock’s mother spoke to KMTV News about the loss of her son in the days after his death, saying: “I’m broken. I’ve been robbed. He didn’t deserve that. He was adventurous, he had such a big heart and was a momma’s boy.”  

If Gardner does not turn himself in, a warrant will be issued for his arrest. He faces up to 95 years in prison.

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