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Self defense? White Nebraska bar owner will not be charged in shooting death of Black Lives Matter protester

Jake Gardner Omaha bar owner and James Scurlock
Pictured, Jake Gardner Omaha bar owner and James Scurlock.
Jake Gardner Omaha bar owner and James Scurlock
Pictured, Jake Gardner Omaha bar owner and James Scurlock.

James Scurlock shooting: No charges to be filed against Jake Gardner Omaha bar owner during Old Market, Nebraska protests. Prosecutors claim self defense – but was it? 

Prosecutors on Monday announced a white Nebraska bar owner will not be charged in the fatal shooting of a black protester in downtown Omaha following weekend demonstrations decrying the recent death of unarmed black man, George Floyd

The shooting occurred at around 11pm on Saturday in the city’s Old Market area and within a couple of blocks of where protesters had gathered. Police said they arrested someone within the hour in connection with the shooting of 22-year-old James Scurlock.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said Monday that Jake Gardner, 38, a retired US Marine with a history of weapons charges who owns two popular bars near where the shooting happened, fired the fatal shot during a scuffle with protesters outside one of his businesses, the Hive

Kleine cited the bar owner saying he feared for his life before the clash and had shot Scurlock in self-defense. 

Prosecutors showed video of the incident before Kleine announced that he wouldn’t file charges. 

Shortly before the shooting, Gardner was backing up away from protesters and asking them to leave. 

At some point video revealed Gardner being shoved to the ground before he fired two shots. Then Scurlock jumped on top of the bar owner. Kleine said Gardner asked Scurlock to get off of him several times, telling him, ‘Get off me, get off me, please get off me,’ before he fired the fatal shot, striking the young man in the neck.

‘We felt that this case was a self-defense case at this time,’ he said.

Some witnesses said Gardner allegedly ‘taunted’ protesters and went out to the sidewalk yelling ‘n****r lover’. From the video, it’s unclear what happened before the shots were fired but witnesses claim Scurlock – who was with his brother – jumped on the shooter’s back to stop him from using his weapon. 

Kleine, however, said during Monday’s press conference that video evidence and witness accounts appear to contradict the narrative that Gardner was taunting protesters or using racial slurs.  

He quoted one protester who was interviewed by police as saying: ‘I’m not a fan of the police department, but I was there and I didn’t hear anything like that [slurs] when I was standing there.’

Kleine said on Monday he hoped the decision not to file charges won’t lead to additional protests in Omaha.

Jake Gardner Hive bar owner and James Scurlock
Pictured, Jake Gardner Hive bar owner and James Scurlock

‘In this community, we prosecute black and brown individuals a lot more for things like we just watched.’

‘It is a senseless death, a loss of a young man’s life, it shouldn’t have happened,’ he said. ‘We know that emotions are running very high…this decision may not be popular and may cause more people to be upset. I would hope that they understand that we’re doing our job to the best of our ability and looking at the evidence and the law.’ 

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, a Republican, threw his support behind Kleine’s decision not to prosecute. 

‘Don Kleine is a well-respected prosecutor in the law community both in Omaha and in the state. If Don Kleine doesn’t believe he can bring charges at this time, I believe him,’ he said. ‘Keep an open mind. We have to heal, and move on together.’ 

A state senator acting as a lawyer for the Scurlock family called Kleine’s decision a ‘rush to judgement,’ and said that the case should have been brought before a grand jury to decide if there is enough evidence to charge Gardner.  

Offered Attorney Justin Wayne, ‘In this community, we prosecute black and brown individuals a lot more for things like we just watched.’  Adding, ‘(Gardner) had an unlawful carry concealed weapon.’

Kleine said Gardner had a carry concealed weapons permit but it was expired at the time of the shooting.

Hive bar owner had a history of multiple weapons-related charges

Prior to Kleine’s announcement, James Scurlock’s father, also named James, spoke out and called on the prosecutor to bring charges against his son’s shooter.

‘Last night, I lost a son,’ he said Sunday afternoon at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation Visitors Center. ‘My kids lost a brother. His daughter lost a father. … We want them to go to court,’ as Omaha World Herald reported. 

Gardner is a retired Marine who served tours of duty in Iraq and Haiti between 2000-2004.

According to his LinkedIn page, Gardner opened The Hive Bar in Omaha in 2011, followed by The Gatsby in 2017.

Documents obtained by The Daily Beast indicate that he has a past criminal record stretching back to the late 1990s, which includes multiple weapons-related charges, as well as arrests on counts of assault and battery.

In 2016, Gardner, who reportedly self-identifies as a Libertarian, sparked a controversy when he posted on Facebook that transgender women should not use the women’s bathroom at his establishment, unless they have had their ‘appendage’ removed and their identification legally changed.

Had the races of the shooter and victim been reversed would charges still not have been filed? 

Just hours before the deadly clash, Gardner posted a status update on Facebook about protecting his business amid the unrest.

‘Just when you think, “what else could 2020 throw at me?” Then you have to pull 48 hours of military style firewatch,’ Gardner wrote.

Following the shooting, which took place amid a second night of violent protests in Omaha, officials imposed a curfew on Nebraska’s largest city, and national guard troops were mobilized to help police. 

Loved ones of Scurlock’s have created a GoFundMe page to help his family.

‘James was passionate for Justice, but today his fight ended as he was shot and killed downtown Omaha while protesting for the same Justice he deserves,’ the page creator writes.

‘May you Rest In Peace James.’ 

On Sunday afternoon, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said that protests were peaceful but following the demonstrations groups started destroying businesses. Police said the majority of people arrested on Saturday were white.

According to witnesses, Scurlock was killed outside a business that had been damaged earlier in the night.