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Douglas County attorney supports grand jury in shooting death of James Scurlock
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Douglas County attorney supports grand jury in shooting death of James Scurlock

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Protest Sunday

A portrait of James Scurlock is held during a protest Sunday in downtown Omaha. Scurlock was shot and killed late Saturday night during a protest in Omaha.

OMAHA — Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said Wednesday that he welcomes and supports the calling of a grand jury to review the death of James Scurlock, the 22-year-old black man fatally shot by a white bar owner Saturday night in downtown Omaha.

Kleine said he personally will file a petition with the presiding judge for a grand jury and a special prosecutor.

He noted, however, that because of COVID-19, it may be awhile before the grand jury can meet.

Monday, after reviewing a handful of grainy and graphic videos and transcripts of witness interviews, Kleine announced that he had concluded that the bar owner, Jake Gardner, acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Scurlock.

Omaha bar owner who shot, killed protester won't face charges

Afterward, community members criticized the decision and called for Kleine to yield to a grand jury to review the case.

Tuesday, both Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert suggested a grand jury as a possibility after people reportedly started exploring how to petition for a grand jury. Under Nebraska law, citizens would need to gather signatures equivalent to 10% of the total votes cast for governor in the last election. That would amount to roughly 20,000 signatures.

Videos of the Saturday night incident show that Gardner, who was in front of his two bars near 12th and Harney streets, was backing up, had lifted his shirt to show a gun and pulled the gun to his side. He then was tackled to his back in a puddle in front of his bar. He fired two warning shots — getting the first two people who tackled him to flee.

Four seconds later, as he rose to a knee, Scurlock jumped on Gardner’s back, and the two went down. Scurlock placed Gardner in what authorities have alternately called a chokehold or a headlock. After a 20-second struggle, Gardner fired over his shoulder, killing Scurlock.

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An attorney for 40 years and a prosecutor for 30, Kleine said it’s his job to make charging decisions. But he said Tuesday that he would not have any concern about a second group of eyes looking at the evidence.

With a grand jury, 16 jurors and three alternates would meet in secret and hear evidence of whether charges should be filed.

Kleine said he wanted the public to have confidence in the justice system. He also pointed out that he routinely goes through a similar process in police-involved deaths: He reviews the evidence and makes an initial decision on charges, and then a grand jury hears the evidence.

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