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Bar Owner Commits Suicide After Being Indicted For Shooting Rioter Who Attacked Him

Hillsboro, OR – The Nebraska store owner who fatally shot the rioter who was seen on video attacking him from behind and putting him into a chokehold has committed suicide, according to his attorney.

The body of 38-year-old military veteran Jacob Gardner was found outside a medical clinic in the 300-block of Southeast Ninth Avenue at approximately 12:20 p.m. on Sunday, the Hillsboro Police Department (HPD) in Oregon confirmed, according to KETV.

Just days earlier, Special Prosecutor Frederick Franklin announced that an Omaha grand jury decided to indict Gardner on charges of terroristic threats, attempted first-degree assault, use of a weapon to commit a felony, and manslaughter in the May 30 death of 22-year-old James Scurlock, KETV reported.

The indictment was handed down more than three months after Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced Gardner had acted in self-defense and that no charges would be filed against him in connection with Scurlock’s death.

Gardner, a decorated military veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq, said he felt as if he was in a war zone during the chaotic chain of events that preceded the fatal shooting, his attorney, Stu Dornan, told KETV.

“It’s stressful. I’m more anxious now than when I was flying to Iraq,” Gardner told KETV before the indictment was announced. “I was in from the end of 2000 ‘til the end of 2004. All trained up by 9/11. I was there in 2003 during the invasion and in Haiti in 2004 to break up the civil unrest.”

His attorney said Gardner was devastated after learning of the grand jury indictment.

“I want to make it very clear that this was a clear case of self-defense,” Dornan reiterated. “The grand jury indictment was a shock to him. He was really shook up.”

He said that Gardner had gone to California after receiving death threats, but that he planned to return to Omaha on Sunday evening.

Gardner did not leave a note before he took his own life, Dornan told KETV.

Despite Kleine’s June announcement that Gardner acted in self-defense at the time of the shooting, Gardner was convicted of murder by social media, according to his other attorney, Tom Monaghan.

“There’s no way to defend the lies on social media. When you respond, you only make it worse,” Monaghan said, adding that Gardner had hired a bodyguard because he was scared to return to Omaha alone.

“Jake was worried he was going to get shot on the way here, that some of those folks [who] would give him death threats…would carry through with them,” the attorney told KETV.

Dornan said that he is angry that Gardner “didn’t have the opportunity for a fair trial,” KETV reported.

Surveillance videos showed that at about 10:15 p.m. on May 30, less than an hour before the fatal incident, Scurlock and a friend vandalized the RDG Planning and Design architectural firm in the former Omaha Chamber of Commerce building located on the corner of 12th and Harney, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Videos obtained by the Omaha World-Herald showed Scurlock entered the building through a smashed window, picked up an office chair, and threw it into two computer monitors.

Then he tore a phone from a desk and hurled it at the wall where it stuck, hanging out of the broken drywall.

The video showed that the other rioter with Scurlock in the video smashed another computer monitor, and then Scurlock pulled a mask back over his face and both men left the destroyed business, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Just down the street, Jake Gardner, the owner of bars The Hive and The Gatsby which are located next door to each other, was inside his business with his father, David Gardner and one of the bouncers who worked at the bars, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Jake Gardner, who served as a U.S. Marine in Haiti and Iraq, had posted on Facebook about having to protect his business.

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

At about 10:55 p.m., rioters began breaking the windows on other nearby businesses, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Someone threw rocks and an Old Market signpost through the windows of The Hive.

Jake Gardner and his father both told police that when the windows suddenly shattered, they thought somebody was shooting at them, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Both Jake and David Gardner ran outside and confronted a group of people in front of the bar, one of whom was Scurlock.

David Gardner got into a shoving match with somebody else in the group, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

A law enforcement official said that at 10:56 p.m., the video showed the same rioter featured in the video with Scurlock smashing computer monitors at the architecture firm pushed David Gardner to the ground.

Kleine said Jake Gardner rushed over to his fallen father and asked what happened, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Then the video showed Jake Gardner backing up at 10:57 p.m. as Scurlock and another man approached him.

Jake Gardner lifted his shirt in the video to show he had a gun at his waist, then he pulled the pistol out and held it down at his side, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

“That (expletive) got a gun,” someone in Scurlock’s group said in the video and then waved at the bar owner, as if to shoo him away. “It’s not worth it (expletive) you stu–.”

Seconds later, a woman – later identified as Alayna Melendez of Omaha – tackled Jake Gardner from behind, landing him on his back in a puddle in the middle of Harney Street, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

At 10:58 p.m., the video showed Jake Gardner fired two warning shots into the air and then attempted to get up from the ground.

The video showed that’s when Scurlock jumped on Gardner from behind and put him in what authorities have called both a “headlock” and a “chokehold,” the Omaha World-Herald reported.

“Get off me, get off me,” Jake Gardner screamed in the video, according to the district attorney.

Scurlock had Gardner’s right arm pinned so the military veteran switched the gun to his left hand.

Then he fired over his shoulder and shot his attacker in the neck-shoulder area, killing him, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The entire struggle lasted 20 seconds and left Scurlock dead.

Police took Jake Gardner into custody and he was questioned with his attorneys present before being released on May 31, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

He answered every single question they asked him, his attorneys said, according to KETV.

The district attorney said he and his chief deputy, Brenda Beadle, reviewed the videos and witness statements for 12 hours “with all of the homicide detectives,” the Omaha World-Herald reported.

“There was a consensus that the actions of the shooter were justified,” Kleine said. “We certainly wish that none of this would have happened. It’s a senseless death.”

He said no one in the room felt Jake Gardner should face charges, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Nebraska law says that a person may use justifiable deadly force to protect themselves or others, but not property.

Kleine and Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said they had methodically broken down five videos of the incident, but said they would be happy to review any other video to look for different angles, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

But the district attorney and the police chief told reporters at the press conference to announce their decision that they felt the initial five videos had given them solid view of the incident.

Kleine, who has been a prosecutor for 30 years, said he didn’t think it was necessary to take the case before a grand jury, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

He said that whatever may have led up to the skirmish, Scurlock pouncing on Gardner from behind was what led Gardner to fire his weapon to protect himself.

Kleine, a Democrat elected to office four times, condemned people – including a local Democratic congressional candidate – for distorting the facts of the case on social media, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Authorities have disputed online accounts that David Gardner also had a gun and that Jake Gardner used racial slurs the night he was attacked by Scurlock.

Police said a member of Scurlock’s group told investigators he hadn’t heard anyone use racial slurs during the altercation, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Protesters were already gathered in Omaha when the district attorney made the announcement that Jake Gardner would not be charged.

After Kleine explained his decision, hundreds more protesters headed downtown to join the demonstration.

Attorney Justin Wayne, who is representing Scurlock’s family, said that although they were pleased about the recent grand jury indictment, Gardner should have been charged months earlier, KETV reported.

“The fact of the matter is if you are Black growing up in Omaha, you run from the cops and you threaten somebody, you don’t walk away,” Wayne said.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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