Retired Black Army Vet Killed by Police after Experiencing PTSD Breakdown: Family Demands Investigation

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By Angie Madrid

 

NEWTON, NJ— Gulia Dale, 61, a retired U.S. Army major, was shot and killed by Newton police on July 4 after he experienced a PTSD breakdown triggered by fireworks—Dale’s family members now demand a full investigation of the incident.

The family said Dale served honorably, beginning his service on Sept. 11, 2001, and spent his active duty in Iraq. After returning from active duty, family members of Dale noticed differences in Dale’s behavior.

“We didn’t know the spectrum of everything he dealt with,” Dale’s sister, Valerie Cobbertt, stated in an interview. “I would notice loud noises bothered him. I remember he would say, ‘Don’t slam the car door.'”

Family members acknowledged that Dale suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, triggered by loud noises. Unsurprisingly, the fireworks ignited during the Fourth of July demonstrated the extent to which Dale’s PTSD affected him.

Dale was not alone in experiencing PTSD after returning from active duty.

According to studies, many veterans experience some form of PTSD: “About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20 percent) who served in OIF [Operations Iraqi Freedom] or OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] have PTSD in a given year.”

Dale’s family believes the police did not adequately respond to their call for help.

According to 911 phone call initiated by Dale’s wife, Karen Dale, she was concerned about Dale’s erratic behavior that night after he retrieved a gun from their home and headed out in his truck.

“He just needed help,” Dale’s sister asserted. “If they would have approached him differently, he would still be alive.”

In a statement provided by the attorney general’s office, Officers Steven Kneidl and Garrett Armstrong shot at Dale around 9:30 p.m. on July 4. Dale had been instructed to step out of the vehicle, and, according to body-cam footage, he did so until he retrieved an object from the rear driver’s side door.

Officers fired their weapons when noticing an object in his hand, killing Dale instantly at the scene. The attorney general’s office mentioned in their statement that a 45-caliber Glock 21 was recovered near Dale’s body.

Family members were distraught over the actions of the police, since they contacted them to de-escalate the situation.

“His wife called for someone to come and help because she feared that he may take his own life,” said Cobbertt. “She called for someone to help. She said it twice. When they came, that was not the case. They murdered my brother.”

According to U.S. Census data, only 4.7 percent of Newton’s population is Black. Living in a predominately white town, Cobbertt charged that if her brother had been white, police officers would have responded differently to the situation. “They see us differently. And they treat us differently,” she said.

She questions why officers did not take any measures to de-escalate the situation, especially since Dale was having a PTSD episode. They immediately drew their guns when arriving at the scene, as shown in the body-cam footage.

Dale’s family demands a full unedited video of the incident, along with the identity of the third officer on scene.

Cobbertt and Rick Robinson, chairman of the Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board, expressed their disapproval over the incident that unfolded, contending that the police department has not been transparent enough with providing the information needed.

“The video shows two officers,” Robinson said. “But it was really three officers. It doesn’t show the entire footage of the entire matter.”

According to Robinson and Dale’s family, the police responded inappropriately by not using tactics to assess the situation nor consider Dale’s history as a veteran with PTSD.

“He was not given the benefit of the doubt,” Robinson explained. “This is what’s actually troubling to the family.”

Steven Young, president of the National Action Network of South Jersey, took it upon himself to schedule meetings between the attorney general and Dale’s family. After attending Dale’s vigil, Young expressed his criticism on how police handled the situation.

“If you’re a veteran and you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, when you hear all these guns, these fireworks and all that, it brings triggers back to your mind of being in a war zone. So your approach should have been thinking that way, as well,” said Young.

Due to the controversial engagement technique used by the police officers during the incident, Dale’s family filed a complaint with the NAACP, a civil rights organization advocating for the rights of and justice for Black folks.

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About The Author

Angie Madrid is a fourth year at UCLA, pursuing a degree in Political Science with a minor in Public Affairs. She is from Los Angeles, CA and would like to pursue law in the future.

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