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Cops in Newton, New Jersey, shot and killed a Black Army veteran whose family says he was in the middle of a PTSD episode, potentially triggered by fireworks on the Fourth of July.
The fatal police encounter, which was captured on officers’ body-worn cameras, began when the man’s wife called 911 that night to report that he had a gun and was leaving their house, according to redacted dispatch-call audio released earlier this month by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the shooting. Between answering the dispatcher’s questions, the woman could be heard warning her husband, Gulia Dale III, that the cops were “on their way for you, because you’re acting crazy.”
Valerie Cobbertt, Dale’s sister, told NBC News that the 61-year-old was having a PTSD breakdown at the time, and “what played a big factor were those fireworks in his area.”
“While it is true that Mr. Dale suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the engagement and tactics used by the Newton Police Department are highly questionable and the family is looking for clarity,” family members said in a statement earlier this month, which was published by the website InsiderNJ.
Rick Robinson, chairman of the Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board, told NBC News that Dale had served in Operation Desert Storm and worked at the Defense Department, and The Record, a New Jersey newspaper, reported he’d served three tours in Iraq.
While not every veteran with PTSD is affected by fireworks, the celebratory explosions can trigger mental health consequences for some. Almost every July Fourth, advocates and mental health professionals issue public service announcements as a warning.
"July Fourth for vets is not a good day at all," Karen Dale, Dale’s wife, said at a recent vigil for her husband and noted he was also contemplating suicide, according to The Record. "I called police to help him—not to murder him."
By the time that officers with the Newton Police Department arrived at Dale's home to respond to his wife’s call, he was already trying to leave in his truck, according to the New Jersey attorney general’s office. After an officer screamed at Dale to get out of the vehicle and onto the ground, Dale briefly hopped out, opened the door to his backseat, and leaned inside, body-camera video shows. Then he got back into the driver’s seat.
Officers continued to yell at Dale to leave the vehicle, who then “got out once again with an object in his hand,” the attorney general’s office said in a press release. A barrage of gunfire followed, with two cops shooting at Dale’s vehicle until he crumpled to the ground, bodycam footage shows.
“Got a gun, got a gun,” one officer could be heard saying in bodycam footage. Investigators later recovered a .45-caliber Glock 21 firearm near Dale, the attorney general’s office said.
Cobbertt, who has filed an internal affairs complaint with the Newton police, told NBC News that she believes her brother would’ve been treated differently if he’d been white.
"They see us differently. And they treat us differently," she said.
The Newton Police Department did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.