Family’s suit alleges prosecutors’ comments led to suicide

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The family of a white Nebraska bar owner who killed himself after being charged in the fatal shooting of a Black man during 2020 protests over racial injustice is suing local prosecutors, alleging their comments led to his suicide.

Jake Gardner’s parents sued the Douglas County Attorney’s Office, its top prosecutor and a special prosecutor Monday in federal court, seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The lawsuit accuses special prosecutor Frederick Franklin and Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine of violating Gardner’s constitutional rights and accuses Franklin of implying that Gardner was a racist, leading him to take his own life on Sept. 20.

Gardner had been charged with manslaughter and other felonies in the May 30, 2020, shooting death of 22-year-old James Scurlock outside Gardner’s bar.

Kleine initially declined to charge Gardner, saying he acted in self-defense after being attacked by Scurlock. But he later asked for a grand jury investigation into the case after his decision was blasted by critics who said he failed to thoroughly investigate the shooting. Defenders of Scurlock say he was trying to stop Gardner from hurting anyone after Gardner flashed a gun at protesters he engaged in a scuffle.

Franklin later said additional evidence from Gardner’s phone and his Facebook Messenger account, along with video from inside his bar, shed new light on his intent the night of the shooting. Following Gardner’s death, Franklin revealed Gardner had been armed and waiting to ambush people who might break into businesses, including his.

The shooting happened as protests and civil unrest roiled cities across the country over George Floyd’s May 25 death at the hands of Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after Floyd stopped moving and pleaded for air. Chauvin was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced last month to 22 1/2 years in prison.

Kleine said he believes the allegations in the lawsuit are unfounded but declined additional comment. A phone message left Wednesday morning for Franklin was not immediately returned.

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