An Omaha bar owner, who was a two-tour veteran and had been cleared by Douglas County District Attorney Don Kleine of charges after fatally shooting a rioter outside of his bar in May, was found dead by suicide on Sunday night, less than a week after a grand jury indicted him.
Jake Gardner, 38, who shot 22-year-old James Scurlock after he was apparently protesting the death of George Floyd outside his bar, acted in self-defense, according to Kleine.
However, following unrest largely because of the races of Scurlock, who is black, and Gardner, who is white, the DA appointed special prosecutor Fred Franklin and a grand jury, hoping “it would restore public faith in the justice system,” NPR reported.
Franklin, who said he initially thought Gardner acted in self-defense, agreed with the grand jury and announced Wednesday that the bar owner was indicted on charges of manslaughter, attempted first-degree assault, terroristic threats, and use of a firearm in connection with a felony.
Less than a week later, on Sunday night, it was confirmed that Gardner had committed suicide.
Gardner’s attorneys, Stu Dornan and Tom Monaghan, according to the Omaha World-Herald, said their client’s suicide stemmed from “a cocktail of behavioral health problems stemming from head trauma he experienced during military service, the belief that people were out to kill him, and an ‘incessant rush to judgment’ by social media jockeys.”
They also disclosed that Gardner was receiving “death threats.”
“Bottom line, Dornan and Monaghan said, Gardner had lost his bars (a landlord ended his lease after the shooting), his home, his livelihood,” the report said. “And he was about to lose his freedom. Add in behavioral health concerns, Dornan said, and suicide was not a surprise, even though his attorneys fully expected him to turn himself in Sunday night.”
“I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Gardner before his return, and he was really shook up,” said Dornan. “The grand jury indictment was a shock to him, it was a shock to us, it was a shock to many people.”
Franklin apparently changed his mind on the Gardner case due to new evidence regarding Gardner’s apparent state of mind before the incident.
The notion that Gardner acted in self-defense is undermined by “evidence [that] comes primarily from Jake Gardner himself,” the special prosecutor said, noting of text messages and Facebook messages.
As highlighted by the Omaha World-Herald, Omaha police had seized Gardner’s phone.
Franklin also noted that the grand jury “relied on surveillance tapes from inside Gardner’s bar.”
However, Omaha World-Herald reports, “that surveillance video has no audio, leaving investigators at a loss as to what Franklin meant.”
As noted by NPR last week, the struggle between Scurlock and Gardner from May 30, according to eyewitness video that circulated on social media, “shows Gardner being pinned down on the ground apparently by Scurlock at one point during their altercation.”
Attorneys for Gardner said the altercation started when another person “had knocked David Gardner off his feet and onto his back.” Omaha World-Herald outlines the incident further:
From there, David Gardner, holding a knife, pushed Scurlock, who was unarmed. Scurlock pushed a bystander next to Jake Gardner. Walking backward, Jake Gardner lifted his shirt to show a gun, saying “Don’t (expletive) with me.”
He pulled the gun and briefly held it down by his side, then returned it to his waistband. At that point, a woman tackled Jake Gardner from behind, knocking him on his back. Randall hovered within inches of the two as they struggled. Jake Gardner fired what he called two warning shots — the grand jury found that one of the shots was an attempt to assault Randall. Both the woman and Randall ran away. Three seconds later, Scurlock jumped on Gardner’s back, the beginning of the 18-second struggle.
Gardner “didn’t realize he was going to get jumped by three people in the street,” Monaghan said.