Prosecutors in Omaha, Nebraska, said Monday that the white bar owner who fatally shot a 22-year-old black man on Saturday night will not face charges since video evidence shows he acted in self-defense.
James Scurlock died after he was shot around 11 p.m. Saturday in the Old Market neighborhood of Omaha. He was transported to the Nebraska Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. A suspect was taken into custody Saturday and questioned by authorities.
Nationwide, including in Omaha, thousands of protesters demonstrated in response to the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, both of whom were unarmed and killed by police.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said on Monday that Jake Gardner, the owner of the bars the Hive and the Gatsby, acted in self-defense after Scurlock jumped on his back during a scuffle outside the bar.
"We certainly wish none of this would have happened," Kleine said. "It's a senseless death. A loss of a young man's life that should have never happened, but with all the events that were taking place, it did happen."
Kleine broke down surveillance video from Saturday night, which began with an altercation outside the Gatsby bar involving a large group of people.
During the scuffle, some men were shoved and two shots were fired. Kleine said Gardner told authorities he fired those shots as "warning shots," and that he wanted to get the group to leave the area.
Video shows that Scurlock jumped on Gardner, held him in a chokehold for a few seconds, and that the bar owner wrestled with him before firing a shot that struck and killed him.
Kleine said Gardner told authorities the two men tussled over the gun.
Kleine said that in audio from a surveillance video, which was not played at Monday's press conference, Gardner can be heard saying "Get off me" several times before the shot was fired.
"It was one gunshot sound to the clavicle. And that was the cause of death," Kleine said.
Kleine said Gardner was interviewed with his lawyers present and that he cooperated, telling authorities "his version of events."
"He felt in danger for losing his life, so he fired that shot in self-defense," Kleine said, adding that authorities could not disprove that claim.
Kleine also addressed a number of social media posts that stated Gardner used racial slurs against Scurlock. Kleine said there is no audio of racist comments, and that witnesses, including Scurlock's friends, did not indicate there were any racial tones in conversations leading up to the shooting.
"There's been a lot of misinformation out there about this case. I've seen social media put out, even by politicians ... calling the event a 'cold-blooded murder,'" Kleine said, adding that statements made without foundation are "irresponsible" and "reckless and dangerous to our community."
Scurlock's father spoke to reporters Sunday, calling for justice and saying he and his family want "closure and peace."
“Last night I lost a son, my wife lost a son, my kids lost a brother,” Scurlock's father, who is also named James Scurlock, told reporters. “His daughter lost a father. All because he decided to protest against racism. There’s a lot of speculation and rumors about how this happened. I don’t really care, to be honest. My family wants closure and peace. What we want is for this to go to court and get a full prosecution. We want this to go with justice and go peacefully.”
Kleine said that there was a consensus among everyone who viewed the evidence, including homicide detectives, that "the actions of the shooter were justified."
"We know emotions are running very high right now, and maybe this decision may not be popular and may cause more people to be upset," Kleine said. "I hope they understand we're doing our job at the best of our ability, looking at the evidence and the law, and that's all we can do. It can't be based on emotions. It can't be based on anger."
Tomi Obaro contributed reporting to this story.
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