Nebraska Bar Owner Who Was Charged in Killing of Black Man Dies by Suicide

A white bar owner charged in the fatal shooting of a Black man during a protest in Nebraska in May — less than a week after the killing of George Floyd — has died by suicide, the man’s lawyer said on Sunday.

The bar owner, Jacob Gardner, was indicted by a grand jury on Sept. 15 in connection with the deadly confrontation with James Scurlock on May 30 in Omaha, one that initially appeared would not lead to criminal charges.

The case touched off large protests and prompted the appointment of a special prosecutor, who gathered additional evidence and presented it to a grand jury.

Mr. Gardner, 38, who was in Oregon when he took his own life, had been expected to fly home to turn himself in to the authorities on Sunday in Nebraska, his lawyer, Stuart J. Dornan, said at a news conference.

“He was deathly afraid of coming back here because he felt he would not get a fair trial,” Mr. Dornan said.

He said that Mr. Gardner, a military veteran, had been under heavy emotional duress since the shooting of Mr. Scurlock, 22, which he called a clear case of self-defense.

Mr. Gardner’s death was reported earlier by WOWT-TV and by The Omaha World-Herald.

Mr. Gardner had traveled to Northern California before he was indicted, but had been forced to leave because of the wildfires there, according to his lawyers, who said he had been scheduled to take a flight from Portland, Ore., to Nebraska.

Mr. Gardner had received death threats that led him to hire a bodyguard, his lawyers said.

“The justice system must be allowed to do its work,” Mr. Dornan said. “Cases should be decided in the courtroom and not on social media in the context of public opinion.”

A lawyer for Mr. Scurlock’s family, Justin T. Wayne, a Nebraska state senator, said in an email on Sunday night that the family would not comment until Monday.

The special prosecutor appointed in the case, Frederick D. Franklin, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The authorities said Mr. Gardner confronted a group of people outside one of his bars in Omaha on May 30 and was knocked to the ground. From there, he fired two warning shots and tried to get to his feet, prosecutors said.

As he did, he got into a fight with Mr. Scurlock and fired a fatal shot. Mr. Dornan said on Sunday that the confrontation took place at the “crossroads of where anger and fear met.”

The fatal shooting came just five days after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, which prompted protests for police reform across the country.

Mr. Gardner was not initially charged with a crime. On June 1, the Douglas County attorney, Donald Kleine, said Mr. Gardner had acted in self-defense when he fired his gun.

In response, Mr. Scurlock’s family collected enough signatures from the public to request the convening of a grand jury. Under Nebraska state law, such an effort can prompt a case to be heard by a grand jury.

By June 8, the county attorney said that, after hearing from the public and other elected officials, he would welcome an outside review “in this rare instance.”

On Sept. 15, Mr. Franklin announced that a grand jury had indicted Mr. Gardner. The charges included manslaughter, using a firearm in the commission of a felony and making terrorists threats, he said.

Though Mr. Franklin declined to elaborate on the specific evidence that was presented, he said at the time that the grand jury was “able to understand that Jake Gardner was threatening the use of deadly force in the absence of being threatened with a concomitant deadly force by James Scurlock or anyone who was associated with him.”

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