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Jake Gardner family files lawsuit against Douglas County, special prosecutor

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 11:32 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The family of Jacob Gardner has filed a lawsuit against Douglas County and the special prosecutor assigned to oversee the grand jury that returned an indictment of the man accused in the shooting death of James Scurlock.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, alleges that Gardner was denied due process, mostly due to remarks made by Special Prosecutor Frederick Franklin; and ultimately led Gardner to end his life.

Last fall, the Gardner family called on Franklin to release the grand jury transcripts after an indictment of manslaughter was handed down for the death of the 22-year-old killed during a protest in May 2020. The Scurlock family has also asked for the transcripts, but so far, they have remained sealed.

Gardner died by suicide in September in Oregon on the day before he was expected to turn himself in. His remains were buried in Arlington National Cemetery earlier this month.

The lawsuit filed Monday by David and Glenda Sue Gardner alleges that the indictment — and specifically Franklin’s comments about the indictment, which they called reckless, false, and misleading — caused their son, a combat war veteran suffering from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, emotional trauma that led to his death by suicide.

“The statements made during the press conference caused Jacob to be ‘surrounded by a dark cloud’ of depression and be in extreme emotional distress regarding both the loss of life that had occurred and his fears for a fair trial and his own safety and that of his family,” the document states.

According to the lawsuit, Gardner received more than 1,600 death threats after the press conference; and his family, fearing for their own safety, was forced to move out of Nebraska.

The lawsuit alleges that Franklin’s comments and the statement he issued after the indictment implied that Jake Gardner was a racist and guilty of the crime, inflaming the community, and causing Gardner to lose all faith in the justice system and subsequently end his own life for fear of an unfair trial. It also holds Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, who had previously ruled the case as an act of “self-defense,” accountable for not keeping Franklin quiet.

“The wrongful statements, which were calculated to create an appearance of guilt surrounding Mr. Gardner, denied him his rights to an impartial jury and due process of law under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments,” the document states. “Immediately after the press conference, Jacob told friends he had “lost all faith in the justice system” and should “walk into the woods and kill [himself].”

The lawsuit also names two anonymous defendants identified as official investigators for the special prosecutor. It does not specify any amount in damages.

Franklin declined to comment on the lawsuit, but stood by the evidence last fall, saying “I wasn’t there to advance any person or any organization’s agenda. I tried to be as objective and just as I possibly could.”

In the days after Gardner’s death by suicide, Franklin explained the reasons the grand jury issued its indictment, indicating Gardner’s text and Facebook messages went against the self-defense argument. Gardner had also brought a number of guns with him to his Old Market bar the night of the protests, looking for a fight “to the extent that Jake Gardner had set up an ambush inside his business — waiting on a looter to come in so he could light them up,” Franklin said in September.

Read the lawsuit

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