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Police killing of Black Army veteran highlights racial inequities, civil rights leaders say

Gulia Dale was fatally shot outside his New Jersey home on July Fourth after his wife called 911 to report that her husband had left home with a gun.
Gulia Dale, III.
Gulia Dale III.Courtesy Dale Family

Civil rights leaders in New Jersey say that the police response to two 911 calls this year in a rural, majority-white town, one of which ended in officers fatally shooting a Black Army veteran outside his home, highlights inequalities in how police treat white people and people of color.

They say they believe race played a role in how officers last month engaged with the retired major, especially when compared to how they handled an 80-year-old white man who told a police dispatcher in January that he was suicidal before a brief manhunt through town ended with him being safely apprehended and arrested at a hospital.

The Army veteran, Gulia Dale, was killed on July Fourth after his wife, Karen, called 911 to report that her husband had left their home with a gun. The New Jersey attorney general's office, which is investigating Dale's death, said a Glock 21, a .45-caliber firearm, was recovered near Dale.

His wife could be heard on the 911 call saying: "The cops are on their way. For you. Because you're acting crazy."

"Please get the cops here," she also said in the call.

The attorney general's office released redacted video of the incident and a recording of the 911 call.

Videos show that Dale, 61, was trying to leave in a four-door pickup truck when police arrived at his home about 9:30 p.m. and activated their body-worn cameras. Patrol cars blocked Dale from both sides.

The officers told him to get out of the vehicle and he complied, according to body-camera videos and a statement this month by the attorney general's office.

Dale then opened the rear driver's side door and briefly leaned inside before he closed the door, video appears to show. He then got in the driver's seat as officers yelled several times, "Get out of the truck." According to one of the videos, Dale again got out of the vehicle, this time with "an object in his hand," the attorney general's office said.

Officers Steven Kneidl and Garrett Armstrong shot at Dale, hitting his car and fatally wounding him, the attorney general's office said. A third officer did not fire a weapon and so has not been publicly identified.

Dale's sister, Valerie Cobbertt, said her brother had post-traumatic stress disorder and was triggered by a barrage of July Fourth fireworks. She said Dale, her only brother, served honorably for 30 years, including in Operation Desert Storm, and worked at the Defense Department and the Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County, New Jersey.

She filed an internal affairs complaint with Newton police on Aug. 5. She said she would like to see unedited video of the encounter and to know the identity of the third officer who was at the scene and of the 911 dispatcher.

In the earlier incident, police said they received a call at 1:28 p.m. on Jan. 25 from an elderly man, later identified as Edwin Greene. The caller said he was suicidal, in possession of a gun and was in a parking garage, but would not provide any further information before he hung up, police said.

When authorities arrived, Greene was sitting in a chair in the garage next to his vehicle holding a small caliber handgun to his head, according to police. Officers closed off the area and tried to speak to Greene, police said. While they were "in the process of establishing a rapport" with him, he is alleged to have fired a .22-caliber handgun twice in the officers' direction.

None of the officers were struck, but one suffered a minor leg injury. Greene then got into his vehicle and fled "despite several officers attempting to block his exit and gain entry to the vehicle as it sped away," police said.

He was still armed when he was later found outside a hospital, according to police.

"Officers approached the subject and he was physically taken to the ground, restrained and taken into custody," police said. The firearm was seized.

Greene, now 81, was charged with attempted murder and other offenses. He pleaded not guilty in February, according to the New Jersey Herald newspaper. He is being held at the Morris County jail.

Newton police said at the time that throughout the encounter, "officers used exceptional restraint and no officer discharged their firearm."

Rick Robinson, chairman of the Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board, said he believes race played a factor in the police response in Dale's case.

Greene "was given the privilege of being arrested after he assaulted the police," said Robinson, also chairman of the Newark NAACP Criminal Justice Committee.

Chief Steven VanNieuwland said Wednesday that because of the ongoing investigation, he could not comment on either incident. He referred NBC News to the town attorney, who said it is the town's position not to comment on ongoing criminal investigations. The employment status of the two officers who shot at Dale is unclear. Newton police previously declined to answer any questions, referring all inquiries to the attorney general's office.

Kneidl's attorney, Anthony Iacullo, said the officers' actions were "legally appropriate and justified."

"The unfortunate and tragic circumstances these officers found themselves in on this July 4th evening were not created by them," Iacullo said in a statement. "They responded to the situation and acted in accordance with their training and experience as police officers and pursuant to the guidelines promulgated for the use of force that exist in the State of New Jersey."

Armstrong's attorney, Charlie Sciarra, said Dale's death is sad and tragic, but he is certain that all protocols and procedures were followed by the officers.

"The man reached into his vehicle and came out with a gun, which was clearly seen, and he brandished it at a law enforcement officer," Sciarra said in a statement. "All the officers have provided voluntary statements. These are no-win situations."

He added: "If the police violate their oath and hide behind their cars instead of engaging the threat and the guy drives off and winds up on a shooting spree then everyone would be screaming: 'The coward cops let him get away!' These officers did their jobs, period."

Steven Young, the president of the National Action Network of South Jersey, said he believes police took no measures to de-escalate the situation with Dale.

"Police are public servants. And we forget that," Young said. "They provide a service and safety for our community. We need to understand that. They need to understand that. They need to be trained in de-escalation."

Cobbertt said her brother was a humble, soft-spoken person who celebrated diversity and loved his country.

"The wife called for mental help," she said. "Why is your first response to get out with your gun? When you don't do that with white people."