But an attorney for one of the officers says their use of force was justified, given the circumstances. Audio of a 911 call from his wife to the Newton Police Department indicates Gulia Dale III, 61, had a gun when he was leaving his home and was “acting crazy.”
A .45-caliber Glock 21 firearm was recovered near Dale, officials said.
The attorney general’s office is now investigating the shooting in the town in the northwest corner of the state. The sister of Dale, a Black decorated Army and National Guard veteran, questions the police response that evening.
Police were called to Dale’s home when his wife called 911 and said he had a gun and was threatening to leave, according to his sister, Valerie Cobbertt.
“He was struggling with mental imbalance and was struggling with PTSD that night,” said Cobbertt, 52, who added that loud bangs, especially fireworks on the Fourth of July, often left Dale feeling rattled.
“He wasn’t himself, so that’s why she called for help, like any person would do. Any normal family member would call for some help for their family member,” Cobbertt told Fintech Zoom on Wednesday. “And they’re expecting to get help with a crisis team, but that’s not what my brother got that night. He got police officers, untrained and guns flaring out of their holsters.”
The 911 call does not make reference to Dale being a veteran.
Earlier this month, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office released body-worn camera footage, dash cam video and the 911 call as part of their investigation. Portions of the video and call are redacted.
The videos show police arriving at 9:30 p.m. as the pickup truck backs out into the street. One of the officers is heard shouting “Get out of the truck” several times followed by “Get on the ground.” The driver exits the car, opens the door to the back seat, leans in and then reenters the cab. It is unknown whether he picked up anything from the back seat.
When Dale pops back out of the car, he has something in his hand, according to the attorney general’s preliminary investigation. That’s when officers Steven Kneidl and Garrett Armstrong opened fire.
Dale collapsed to the pavement, with the driver’s side door of his truck left open.
“He’s dead, he’s dead. Got a gun, got a gun,” one of the officers can be heard in a body-worn camera video.
Dale was declared dead at the scene, according to the preliminary report.
Newton police Chief Steven VanNieuwland declined to comment, citing the investigation. Fintech Zoom reached out to a representative for Armstrong but did not hear back.
An attorney for Kneidl says 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,” said attorney Anthony Iacullo 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.”
Dale retired with the rank of major and received numerous commendations and achievement awards during his time of service, including deployments overseas, according to his sister.
Fintech Zoom was unable Wednesday to obtain service records from the Defense Department.
Cobbertt said her brother dealt with post-traumatic distress disorder from time in Iraq and that he needed crisis intervention, not police, that evening. Dale’s obituary said he had a tour of several months in Iraq.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is conducting the probe as part of a law passed in January 2019 that direct it to launch an investigation when someone dies from a direct encounter with law enforcement.
“We strongly believe that the best way to honor the deceased individual — and to provide closure to the families — is to conduct a comprehensive investigation and assist the grand jury in determining whether any law enforcement officers should be charged in the incident,” said spokesperson Peter Aseltine in a statement.
While the investigation continues, the family is left reeling.
Cobbertt said when Dale worked as a specialist at the Pentagon, he would come home on the weekends to Newton, where he lived with his wife and two adult daughters. Before that, he worked at the Picatinny Arsenal, a military research base in New Jersey. Dale would often struggle if he heard loud noises during the work day, sometimes being sent home early because he struggled so much, Cobbertt said.
Cobbertt said her brother enjoyed fishing, cooking, gardening and watching Japanese anime.
The sibling says she’s enlisted the help of the NAACP in New Jersey to help raise the issue of how police interact with the community.
“It’s just unfair that Black people get dealt differently than our white counterparts when a situation happens with police. And it’s not fair,” Cobberrt said.
“We’re torn apart. We’re broken. Our heart is like in pieces,” Cobbertt said. “He should still be here with us. This didn’t have to happen.”