Posted on June 16, 2023

Why Jake Gardner Died

Helen Andrews, American Conservative, June 14, 2023

It was a masterstroke of coincidental timing that Joe Sexton’s book about the deaths of Jake Gardner and James Scurlock happened to be published exactly one week after the fatal encounter between Daniel Penny and Jordan Neely on a Manhattan subway train.

The two incidents have a lot in common: Jake Gardner and Daniel Penny both served in the Marines; Scurlock and Neely both had long criminal records; in both confrontations, the white man claimed to be acting in self-defense; police initially believed them, but outcry based on the racial optics pressured authorities into bringing down on both men the full weight of the law.

Whether Daniel Penny will be convicted on his manslaughter charge is still in doubt. Unfortunately, there is good reason to think that the factors behind the Jake Gardner tragedy were not an anomaly from the hysterical summer of 2020 but are the new normal that Penny and every other similarly situated white defendant will have to deal with from now on.

The facts of the evening of May 30, 2020, are not in dispute. They were captured on camera from multiple angles. Jake Gardner and his father Dave were camped out in Jake’s bar called “The Hive” to protect it from looters during Omaha’s Black Lives Matter protests. Dave stepped out of the bar to confront a group of people breaking windows, one of whom he shoved. (Dave was 69 years old and weighed 140 pounds from undergoing chemotherapy.) A young black man came barreling out of nowhere and tackled Dave to the ground. Jake came over to protect his father. Two people tackled Jake and pulled him to the ground. He fired a warning shot and the two assailants backed off. Then James Scurlock jumped Jake from behind and tried to put him in a chokehold. Jake fired the fatal shot over his shoulder.


{snip} One of the two assailants who first tackled Jake Gardner to the ground, a female protester named Alana Melendez, told a freelance video reporter within minutes of leaving the scene, “A white supremacist just killed a black man.” When he interviewed her for the book, Sexton asked how she knew he was a white supremacist. “I just knew. I don’t know,” she said. “It’s just what came out of me. If some stupid white fucker came to this protest with a gun, that’s what he is to me. And I knew that that would grab people’s attention.”

The most active proponent of the theory that Gardner was a racist was a blogger named Ryan Wilkins. A local lawyer who claimed to have gone to high school with Gardner, Wilkins wrote a series of blog posts accusing Gardner of being a “known white supremacist.” He claimed that Gardner had a swastika tattoo and had put hidden Nazi symbols in the logo of his business. He said Jake’s father was “a former drug-trafficker” who got involved with white supremacists during a stint in prison in Texas and that Jake used to join his father on drug runs.

Wilkins was assisted in his campaign of character assassination by a mysterious online figure who claimed to be Jake Gardner’s cousin and supplied Wilkins with tales of hearing the n-word at family barbecues and other racist behavior. This figure turned out to be a local sociology professor named Jenny Heineman, a self-described feminist and former sex worker. {snip}

To determine whether Jake’s father had ever spent time in prison in Texas, Sexton hired a private investigator, who found no evidence he had. He saw the autopsy report that catalogued all the tattoos on Jake’s body—no swastika. He gave the Hive logo to a research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, who found no secret Nazi symbols. Sexton finally got Heineman to agree to an interview (she had at first insisted he hand over the story to a black female reporter), and she admitted that she had never witnessed a single example of racist behavior by Jake or his parents. {snip}

It would be bad enough to have nutcases like Wilkins and Heineman slandering you online, but their lies did not stay online. These people were called in by special prosecutor Fred Franklin to assist in his investigation and helped to shape the indictment  {snip}


Indicted on four felony charges, Jake Gardner killed himself on September 20, 2020, the day he was supposed to turn himself in. {snip}

Daniel Penny released his first video interview over the weekend. In it, he explains his side of the story of the subway confrontation, emphasizing Jordan Neely’s threatening behavior and the justifiable fear that he and other passengers felt. He carefully rebuts all the media myths about the encounter: no, he didn’t target Neely because of his race; no, he didn’t keep Neely in a chokehold for fifteen minutes, more like five. {snip}

Releasing videos is an unorthodox move for a criminal defendant. You are supposed to let the legal process work itself out, not try the case in the court of public opinion.

That was a rule for yesterday. Gardner followed that rule. So did Derek Chauvin. (Do you even know what Derek Chauvin’s voice sounds like?) How did it work out for them? {snip}