The wife of a black veteran feared for her safety. The officers shot him.

The nighttime encounter lasted less than 15 seconds. When it was over, Gulia Dale III, a retired black man and army major, was dead, fatally shot by two white policemen responding to an emergency call from his worried wife, Karen.

Karen Dale had called for help four minutes earlier, worried for her husband’s safety and telling a 911 dispatcher he was acting erratically and had a gun. A .45 caliber Glock 21 was found near his body, officials said. He was holding it when the police fired, their lawyers said.

It was July 4 in Newton, N.J., and Major Dale’s relatives believe the sound of fireworks near his home had unsettled him, rekindling memories of his time in combat and increasing stress. trauma he had fought after 42 years in the military. .

“It was 12 seconds – if it was,” her sister, Valerie Cobbertt, said in an interview. “It was so fast. You didn’t give him a chance.

“I don’t mean to say that the race played a role,” she added. “But it did.”

The shooting of Major Dale, 61, attracted little attention until this month, when the state attorney general’s office released videos of the episode filmed by the body cameras and the cameras on the dashboard of the officers. The office is investigating the case, and a grand jury will be invited to consider the charges against the officers, such as New Jersey the law requires it after a fatal confrontation with the police.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, Major Dale’s fatal shooting fuel the ongoing debate over whether armed officers are the best people to send to emergency calls to help those in mental distress.

This debate has intensified amid wider protests against police misconduct that arose last year after the murder of George Floyd. Police departments in various cities, including new York, replied by starting to have social workers and doctors answer a few 911 calls for mental health emergencies. Wednesday, Newark added 10 social workers to answer such calls. Other cities, including Albuquerque and, in perhaps the oldest example, Eugene, Oregon, had already started moving that way.

Tina Hawkins, a former supervisor of Major Dale at the Equal Opportunity Office at the Picatinny Arsenal, an Army facility in New Jersey, said police overreacted by confronting him.

“They didn’t have to come out with flaming guns like they did,” she said.

Ms Cobbertt agreed, noting that Newton Police reacted differently during a January episode involving an 80-year-old white man who is accused of having shot twice on officers in a parking lot after calling to report he had a gun and was planning to kill himself. Police did not shoot the man, who was taken to hospital for assessment after being arrested and is accused of attempted murder.

Ms Hawkins, who described Major Dale as “brilliant” and “very kind, very soft-spoken,” said she would not be surprised if the sound of the fireworks had pissed her off. He sometimes struggled with loud noises when working at the arsenal, she said, especially after moving from one office to another closer to where the bombs and guns are. tested.

“It bothered him,” said Ms. Hawkins, herself an Army veteran. “He would be visibly upset. He would take a break. Sometimes he would put on his headphones.

Two years after the move, Major Dale left for a job as an Equal Opportunity Specialist at the Pentagon, commuting weekly from New Jersey to Washington and back. He grew up in Montclair and Orange, NJ, and had lived in Newton for almost 30 years. The town, in rural Sussex County in northern New Jersey, has 8,000 inhabitants. Only 5 percent are black, according to census figures.

The night Major Dale was shot, his wife can be heard on a registration of calling 911 to try to reason with him. “The cops are on their way,” Ms. Dale said on the recording. “For you. Because you’re acting like a fool. (Through a parent, she declined an interview request.)

A few minutes later, at around 9:30 p.m., Major Dale was backing his truck out of its driveway in front of a white picket fence when one of the three officers who answered the 911 call arrived and blocked it from the front, according to police camera footage. A second police car pulled up from behind, pinning him inside.

“Get out of the truck,” an officer can be heard shouting. “Get out of the truck. Go to the field.”

The footage shows Major Dale exiting the vehicle, opening a back door and reaching inside. He then returns to the driver’s seat before quickly exiting and facing at least one of the officers. He was shot dead as he left the truck “with an object in his hand,” the attorney general’s office said.

Rick Robinson, who heads the criminal justice committees for the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP, said the videos did not show the officers making efforts to defuse the conflict.

“You have to question their de-escalation training,” said Mr. Robinson, who is also the chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board in Newark. “Why was the matter not treated differently? “

All 38,000 New Jersey police officers to undergo de-escalation training in new ‘use of force’ Politics which takes effect next year and limits when police can hit, hunt or shoot civilians or use dogs. It is not known whether Newton’s officers received such training.

The city’s police chief declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

The two officers identified as having shot Major Dale, Garrett Armstrong and Steven Kneidl, are relatively new to the Newton Department, according to press releases: Officer Armstrong joined last November, Kneidl Officer in May 2019. After some free time to have their health assessed, their lawyers said, they returned to work.

The shooting was justified, the lawyers said.

“His death is tragic,” Charles J. Sciarra, Officer Armstrong’s lawyer, said of Major Dale. “But we are sure that all protocols and procedures were followed.”

“He reached into his car and walked out with a gun,” Sciarra continued, calling the episode a “dead end.”

“If they’re hiding behind the cars and the guy goes off and then commits suicide or gets into a shootout,” he added, “then everyone is shouting, ‘Why did they leave him escape ?’ “

Agent Kneidl’s attorney, Anthony J. Iacullo, said the actions taken by his client and Agent Armstrong “were legally appropriate and justified.”

Melvin H. Wilson, senior policy adviser at the National Association of Social Workers, said Ms. Dale’s plea for help was the “exact kind of thing” that would be best handled by someone else. as police officers.

“The assumption is that de-escalation can occur without the direct involvement of the primary police,” said Wilson, who contributed to a recent analysis responses to 911 calls by the police.

“This reduces the possibility of a fatal encounter with the police,” he added.

Ms Cobbertt, who filed an internal affairs complaint with Newton Police, said she did not understand why officers in the small town where her brother lived for three decades and raised three daughters were not more sensitive to his mental health.

“There should be other questions asked when you call 911,” she said. “Why not say, ‘Is there a history of mental health? “”

“For me,” she added, “my brother should always be here.”

Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.

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