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Lincoln jury finds inmate guilty of assaulting prison employee

October 11, 2018

A Lancaster County jury Tuesday found an Omaha man guilty of second-degree assault of an employee last November at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center, the state prisons’ intake facility for male prisoners.

Prosecutors say 25-year-old Justin Gardner went to a prison lieutenant’s office with a complaint Nov. 17, 2017, insisting that he had finished his sentence and should be released.

Gardner grew angrier, stood up and approached the lieutenant’s desk with his papers, shoved his shoulder into the lieutenant and ended up giving him an upper cut, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Eric Miller said in closing arguments Tuesday.

“He knew what he was doing. He’s not a child,” Miller said, asking the jury to find him guilty of the felony charge for the assault while Gardner was incarcerated.

Gardner’s attorney, Doug Kerns, asked jurors to put themselves in that room if they could, arguing that the state couldn’t prove his client had intended to strike the prison employee.

He said Gardner was frustrated, and the lieutenant failed to de-escalate the situation, instead telling him there was nothing he could do because it was a Friday night.

Kerns said that only further frustrated Gardner.

“There is no Friday in prison. Every day is Monday,” he said.

Kerns said what happened when Gardner stood to try to give the employee paperwork he thought proved he had served his sentence wasn’t caught on video because it was in the office, so jurors had no way of seeing for themselves what happened.

Miller countered that Gardner was upset to begin with and just got angrier as the conversation went on, then pushed into the lieutenant and struck him in the face.

The lieutenant ended up with an injury to the top of his lip.

The assault, witnessed by another prison employee in the room, was intentional and purposeful, Miller said. After Gardner did it, he kicked the employee’s desk and threatened to shoot him if he saw him on the street, he said.

The jury got the case Tuesday morning and returned later in the day with a guilty verdict.

Gardner faces up to 20 years at his sentencing in December.

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