Gardner family files lawsuit against Douglas County and special prosecutor

(Omaha, NE) -- The family of Jake Gardner, the man accused of killing James Scurlock last summer, files a lawsuit against Douglas County and the special prosecutor assigned to his grand jury proceedings.

Gardner's family filed the lawsuit in federal court on Monday. The suit alleges that Gardner was denied due process, primarily due to remarks made by Special Prosecutor Frederick Franklin, which the family claims ultimately led Gardner's suicide. 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 22 year old Scurlock, who was killed during a May 2020 protest.

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 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 emotional trauma that led to his death by suicide. Gardner's family says Jake was a combat war veteran who was suffering from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. “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 suit 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 accountable for allowing those remarks to be made. “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.

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