Grand Jury Indicts Jake Gardner For Manslaughter In James Scurlock's Death

A "Justice for James Scurlock" shirt at an event in Lincoln in June. (Becca Costello, NET News)
September 15, 2020 - 4:48pm

The special prosecutor reviewing the shooting death of 22-year-old James Scurlock during May protests in Omaha announced a manslaughter indictment against the bar owner who shot him.

Additional counts include attempted assault, use of a firearm in a felony, and terroristic  threats. Details of the evidence were not released.

Scurlock was shot by Jake Gardner, a downtown bar owner, who claimed he was protecting his property during the civil unrest that rocked Omaha and other cities nationwide.

Initially the Douglas County Attorney’s office had elected not to press charges against Gardner. After a public outcry, the case was turned over to a special prosecutor who presented evidence to a grand jury.

Special Prosecutor Fred Franklin said it was a "slam dunk," and that there was much more evidence available to the grand jury than there was at the time no charges were filed. The new evidence included Gardner's own statements. 

"The grand jury was able to have information from his cell phone, from his Facebook messenger account, they were able to review video inside Mr. Gardner's business, and they were able to get evidence regarding Mr. Gardner's state of mind," Franklin said. "And that evidence can be reasonably construed as an intent to use a firearm for purposes of killing someone."

Franklin says the manslaughter indictment indicates intentional killing, "but as a result of a sudden quarrel." The evidence also included about 60 Omaha Police interviews and many videos received from witnesses. 

On May 31, crowds had gathered in downtown Omaha following peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. After dark, some became more unruly, smashing windows and vandalizing property. Gardner, who is white, stood outside his bar in the Old Market area and brandished a handgun at the predominantly black protesters. After he fired two apparent warning shots, there was a scuffle and Gardner's third shot killed Scurlock.

In a press conference following the indictment announcement, Scurlock family attorney Justin Wayne made clear the fight isn't over. 

"So while we are appreciative of Mr. Franklin, we are appreciative of the grand jury, we have to remind people this is not a celebration — it's a day to be thankful," Wayne said. "It's a day to be thankful that we're starting the process. But we still have a long way to go."

The process begins with charges filed by the county attorney, followed by a hearing at which Gardner will be given a chance to enter a plea.

Scurlock's father, James Scurlock II, said he had mixed emotions following the announcement. He continues to call on protesters to remain peaceful during demonstrations. 

"You can't cure violence with violence. Trust me, I know — I grew up in violence" Scurlock said. "You don't heal the sick by making them sicker, you give them medicine. The medicine in this right here is communication, understanding, finding out where each one comes from. Each one teach one, ain't that our motto over in North?" 

Gardner has not commented since the indictment announcement. 

In the past 24 hours, police in Omaha have taken security precautions in preparation for possible public reaction to the results of the inquest.

This post has been updated.

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