EXCLUSIVE: Family of Jake Gardner Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against County, Special Prosecutor, and Attorney General's Office

The parents of a Nebraska bar owner that committed suicide after a fatal altercation with violent rioters have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county, the Attorney General, two unnamed detectives, and the special prosecutor in the case.

Jake Gardner, 38, shot and killed a rioter who was attacking him, his elderly father, and his business during last summer’s Black Lives Matter riots. Prior to his suicide, he was indicted by a grand jury on counts of manslaughter, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, attempted first-degree assault and making terrorist threats — but only after intense political pressure was placed on the city.

The lawsuit accuses the plaintiffs of conspiring to deprive Gardner of his right to a fair trial and due process; deprivation of Sixth Amendment rights; deprivation of Fourteenth Amendment rights; a Brady Rule violation; wrongful death; and failing to prevent the deprivation of his rights.

Gardner was a Marine and veteran of deployments to Iraq and Haiti. He described himself as a libertarian, but voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 and volunteered for his campaign in three states.

The district attorney had originally ruled that the shooting was self defense.

On May 30, Gardner confronted a group of rioters outside one of the bars he owned in Omaha called The Hive. One of them had just violently attacked his 70-year-old father, which was captured on surveillance footage. 

During the chaos, Gardner was knocked to the ground. The veteran fired a warning shot and attempted to back away. The situation took a tragic turn after 22-year-old rioter James Scurlock jumped on his back and began choking him. The veteran could be heard pleading with his assailant saying, “Get off me, get off me, please get off me.”

According to the lawsuit, the choking lasted at least 18 seconds before Gardner fatally shot Scurlock.

Scurlock had repeatedly broken windows at Gardner’s bar and other businesses in the area earlier in the evening.

Still, the fatal shooting sparked even more rioting in the city, which escalated after Donald Kleine, the Douglas County attorney, determined that Gardner had acted in self-defense and declined to bring charges.

In what appeared to be a political move to quell the riots, Douglas County District Court Judge Shelly Stratman appointed Special Prosecutor Fredrick D. Franklin to handle the case, though the court said that they expected the same outcome.

Franklin is the President of the Midlands Bar Association, an organization for black-only attorneys. The lawsuit notes that the special prosecutor had heavily implied Gardner was a “racist” when he announced the charges, at the height of racial tension in the nation, by saying the decision was not made because he “may or may not have been a racist” because “being a racist is not against the law.”

There were no hints of racism in Gardner’s messages or reason for Franklin to imply that there was.

The special prosecutor inflamed people so much that Gardner received more than 1,600 death threats that week. His family was also forced to move out of state for fear of their own safety.

At this point, his friends and family say that Gardner lost all hope for a fair trial. The complaint notes that as a combat war veteran suffering from PTSD and a Traumatic Brain Injury, he was especially vulnerable to emotional trauma.

In September, Franklin held a press conference in which he explained that the day before the shooting, then-President Donald Trump tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” and said that it was significant to the case because Gardner’s “affinity for the president” was well-known. The special prosecutor also stated Gardner was “philosophically opposed” to the reason for the protest, which apparently negates his right to defend himself, his family, and his business.

Franklin claimed that by being at his bar, with the lights off, “Gardner had set up an ambush inside his business, waiting on a looter to come in so he could ‘light him up.’”

The charge of making “terrorist threats” appeared to be due to Gardner saying in a text message that he was holding a “military style fire watch” to protect his business from being burned down. His plan, which he followed through with according to his family, was to pull the fire alarm and call the police if rioters began attacking the building. He did just that. When the coast seemed clear, he and his father went outside to assess the damage. Unfortunately, the rioters were still nearby.

The family is now being represented by John Pierce of Pierce Bainbridge and the National Constitutional Law Union Inc. (NCLU). The firebrand attorney is also representing fifteen January 6 protesters, former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as Amanda Ensing, a Latina beauty influencer who was defamed and “cancelled” by Sephora for conservative social media posts. He previously represented then-Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in her lawsuit against Hillary Clinton.

“This is more than a typical case to us at Pierce Bainbridge and the NCLU, this is a personal matter. As a military veteran myself, I am disgusted to see another member of the United States Military be treated the way Jake was,” Pierce told Timcast.com. “This was not only a tragedy for the family but also this country. Jake was a beloved man by his family, friends, and his community.”

Pierce continued on to say that “Jake was specifically targeted by numerous forces, including the media, to be labeled as a murderer and a racist. The simple fact is Jake was simply and absolutely defending himself from being killed and his property being destroyed by rioters. All responsible here will be held accountable, and this will be an important step in putting the country back on track and restoring true equality and justice.”

“Jake’s death will not be in vain,” Pierce concluded.

The complaint states that “defendant Franklin conspired with Defendant Kleine and Does 1 and 2, retired Omaha detectives on Defendant Franklin’s team, to make false and misleading statements to the media which violated Jacob Gardner’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to a fair trial and due process of law by implying Mr. Gardner’s guilt, implying he was a racist, and inflaming the community regarding the case.”

“These recklessly biased and false statements by Defendant Franklin also caused Jacob Gardner to lose all faith in the justice system and end his own life for fear of an unfair trial,” the complaint continues. “Defendant Kleine and Does 1 and 2 had knowledge that these wrongful statements were going to be made to the media, and negligently or knowingly failed to prevent them. The Douglas County Attorney’s Office and Douglas County, Nebraska, created a wrongful, unconstitutional policy in allowing Defendant Franklin to make the wrongful statements which deprived Mr. Gardner of his rights and caused his death.”

Gardner was buried at Arlington National Cemetery earlier this month.

Those who wish to help his family with legal costs can donate here, or through the NCLU here.

*For corrections please email [email protected]*