A Nebraska bar owner who shot a man that attacked him during rioting in Omaha over the summer committed suicide on Sept. 20, according to law enforcement officials and the man’s lawyers.
Jake Gardner fatally shot James Scurlock, 22, on May 30, after Scurlock attacked him outside Gardner’s bar.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine found Gardner’s actions “justified,” telling reporters the next week that it was a clear case of self-defense.
“If somebody is in fear for their own life or serious bodily injury and that they can’t, they don’t feel like they can retreat safely, the law says that even if they’re mistaken in their belief, if their belief has some reasonable basis, even if they’re mistaken, it’s still justifiable for that person to use deadly force,” Kleine said.
But a special prosecutor appointed by a county judge convened a grand jury, which returned an indictment against Gardner on Sept. 15.
“It’s almost a slam dunk,” special prosecutor Frederick Franklin said at a press conference announcing the indictment, citing evidence including video footage and witness statements.
While Kleine said the shooting was in justifiable self-defense, “there is evidence that undermines that,” he said.
Gardner faced charges including manslaughter and first-degree assault.
Gardner was on his way to Omaha to face the charges when he died “at his own hand,” his attorneys said.
Hillsboro, Oregon, police officials confirmed on Sept. 20 that Gardner’s body was found at 12:20 p.m. outside a medical clinic in Portland, Oregon.
“The cause of death is under investigation, but officers are not seeking any suspects and there is no danger to the community,” they wrote in a statement.
Stu Dornan, one of Gardner’s attorneys, told reporters at a press conference that his client was a veteran who served two tours in Iraq and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He told us that he felt that he was in the war zone that night outside of his bar, with the violence, the tear gas, and the confusion,” Dornan said, calling what unfolded “a clear case of self-defense.”
The grand jury indictment came as a shock to Gardner, his lawyers, and others, Dornan said.
Gardner had received death threats and feared for his safety, lawyer Tom Monaghan said.
“I can tell you that Jake was worried that he was going to get shot on the way here, that some of those folks that gave him the death threats on his phone—and how they got his phone number, I don’t know—would in fact carry through with them,” he said.
Scurlock’s lawyer, Democratic Nebraska state Sen. Justin Wayne, and family haven’t commented on Gardner’s death.
An inquiry sent to Wayne wasn’t immediately returned.