Judge tosses lawsuit filed by Jake Gardner family against Douglas County, special prosecutor

Gardner died by suicide following his indictment in the May 2020 death of protestor James Scurlock
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Jacob Gardner last July in federal court has been dismissed.
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 10:03 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Jacob Gardner last July in federal court has been dismissed.

The lawsuit filed against Douglas County and Special Prosecutor Frederick Franklin alleged that Gardner, accused in the May 2020 shooting death of 22-year-old James Scurlock, was denied due process, mostly due to remarks made by Franklin; and ultimately led Gardner to end his life. Scurlock was killed during protests in Omaha following the death of George Floyd, killed by a Minneapolis police officer a few days prior.

David and Glenda Sue Gardner had alleged 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.

In court documents dated Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John M. Gerrard said none of the claims submitted in the lawsuit was “viable” and that most were “defective in more than one way.”

“There is absolutely no legal basis to conclude that Franklin or anyone else is liable, under federal or state law, for Franklin's alleged braggadocio at his press conference."

Lawsuit dismissal by U.S. District Judge John M. Gerrard

Franklin had been assigned to oversee the grand jury that returned a manslaughter indictment of Gardner, after which the family called for the release of the grand jury transcripts.

In the lawsuit, the family took issue with Franklin’s categorization of the case against Gardner as an “almost slam-dunk” and his refusal to disclose whether racist comments had been found on Gardner’s phone, which they said falsely implied there were such comments, which the family disputed.

His comments, they alleged, would have tainted any jury pool and made it impossible for Gardner to receive a fair trial.

But the judge found that the allegations were moot since the matter never went to trial, and that Gardner’s right to a fair trial was never violated, and that there was no evidence of a conspiracy to deprive him of that right, at one point in the ruling stating: “The Court’s not sure what to make of that.”

Gardner died by suicide in September in Oregon on the day before he was expected to turn himself in to face charges in the death of the 22-year-old killed during a protest in May 2020. His remains were later buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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

Read the dismissal

This is a developing story. Stay with 6 News for updates.

Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 WOWT. All rights reserved.