After months of protests calling for charges, a Nebraska grand jury has indicted the white bar owner who shot and killed James Scurlock, a 22-year-old Black man, during a Black Lives Matter protest in Omaha, Nebraska, in June.
The grand jury determined on Tuesday that Jake Gardner, 38, will face four charges including manslaughter, attempted first-degree assault, use of a firearm, and terror threats.
Announcing the charges, special prosecutor Frederick Franklin said much of the new evidence that allowed for charges to be laid came from Gardner himself, including Facebook posts and text messages.
"There was evidence that was gathered and presented to the grand jury about activity that Jake Gardner was engaged in prior to even coming in contact with James Scurlock," said Franklin.
"Evidence to reasonably be construed as an intent to use a firearm for purposes of killing someone," he continued. "You will want to know what it is, and I can't tell you about it. But what I can tell you is that that evidence comes primarily from Jake Gardner himself."
Gardner killed Scurlock on the night of May 30, the first weekend of Black Lives Matter protests around the country after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.
On that night, Gardner stood armed outside one of his businesses in the Old Market neighborhood. After an altercation with two men, Gardner began shooting — he later told authorities they were “warning shots” — and Scurlock, who was not part of the original altercation, jumped on his back to stop him.
Gardner shot and killed him. Multiple associates have since come forward to say Gardner was known for making racist comments.
Less than two days later, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine declined to charge Gardner, announcing that his actions were in “self-defense.” After public outcry and protest, Kleine announced on June 3 that he would petition for a grand jury.
"Justice for James" protesters in Omaha have been calling for Kleine to lay charges against Gardner for months, including a daily protest outside his gated community for 36 straight days to symbolize the 36 hours it took the Douglas County attorney to decide not to press charges.
Franklin said he initially believed he would find the same result as Kleine, but new evidence changed that.
"I expected to ultimately end up at the conclusion of the decision-making to stand in front of the press and say the same thing Don Kleine said, which is that the shooting was justifiable self-defense," said Franklin during a press conference on Tuesday. "But I can tell you that there is evidence that undermines that, and again that evidence comes primarily from Jake Gardner himself.”
During one July protest, local police arrested all 120 people at the local Black Lives Matter protest who had gathered specifically to call for justice for Scurlock.
Bear Alexander, a leader at ProBLAC who organized that July protest, told BuzzFeed News that an increased police force in the downtown area this week had him and other protesters worried that the grand jury would not indict Gardner, and they were ready to take to the streets.
"We really were expecting the absolute worst," Alexander said. "We had very little hope that we would see justice."
The Omaha Police Department wrote in a Facebook post on Monday that it did not have any information about "any possible or planned civil unrest."
Omaha police confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it has not arrested Gardner since the grand jury decision. Franklin said Gardner is expected to turn himself in.
But local Black Lives Matter protesters are still frustrated that the charges took so long.
"We are happy, but we recognize that these are still crumbs thrown at us from a white supremacist system," said Alexander. "The fact that it had to go to the grand jury is shameful."
"We are now changing our signs and chants from 'arrest Jake Gardner' to 'convict Jake Gardner,' and it is still 'no justice, no peace,'" added the 23-year-old.