Sep 16, 2020 9:49 AM

Nebraska business owner charged in protester's shooting

Posted Sep 16, 2020 9:49 AM

By JOSH FUNKAssociated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A white business owner who fatally shot an unarmed Black man during civil unrest in downtown Omaha this spring will be charged with manslaughter and several other charges.

The fatal May 30 shooting of 22-year-old James Scurlock was reviewed by a grand jury after Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine declined to file charges against bar owner Jake Gardner. Kleine said he believed Gardner acted in self-defense after reviewing video of and witness statements about the altercation, but Kleine requested the review after his decision was criticized to ensure people have faith in the justice system.

Special Prosecutor Frederick Franklin said the grand jury reviewed additional evidence that Kleine didn't have, but he wouldn't discuss details of what the evidence showed. He said police interviewed about 60 people, gathered video from the public and reviewed Gardner's cell phone and social media accounts as part of the investigation.

"I believe there is competent, credible evidence to support the decision that they in fact did make," Franklin said about the grand jury.

Franklin said the evidence the grand jury reviewed undermines the conclusion that the shooting was self-defense.

"There was significant evidence that was consistent with there being an intentional killing by Jake Gardner and that evidence comes primarily from him," he said.

Gardner was also charged with attempted assault, making terroristic threats and using a gun to commit a felony.

Scurlock's shooting happened as protests and civil unrest unfolded in downtown Omaha and other cities across the country over the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Floyd, who was Black and handcuffed, died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes even after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air.

The Omaha shooting happened outside Gardner's bar in downtown Omaha as he sought to ward off any theft or property damage. After the shooting, Kleine showed surveillance video that seemed to show words exchanged between Gardner, his father and protesters before Gardner, flashing the gun, backed away. Gardner was shoved to the ground by two people before he fired two shots, sending people scrambling. Scurlock then jumped on Gardner's back and was shot by Gardner. While there was no audio with the video, Kleine said Gardner warned Scurlock to get off of him several times before he fired the fatal shot.

Critics of the initial investigation said Scurlock was trying stop Gardner - who had already fired what officials called two warning shots from the gun - from hurting anyone.

Franklin said he hopes the charges won't ignite new protests in Omaha.

"This is not a time for celebration or exurberance. These are simply charges," Franklin said. "Jake Gardner is a man presumed innocent as I stand here before you right now."