Valerie Cobbertt noticed differences in her older brother, Gulia Dale, every time he returned from an active-duty tour in Iraq.
“We didn’t know the spectrum of everything he dealt with,” Cobbertt said in an interview Monday. “I would notice loud noises bothered him. I remember he would say, ‘Don’t slam the car door.'”
So it came as no surprise when she learned that Dale, 61, a retired Army major who was activated on Sept. 11, 2001, and who, she said, had post-traumatic stress disorder, was triggered by a barrage of fireworks that were deployed July 4 by his neighbors on Clive Place in Newton, New Jersey.
Dale’s wife, Karen, called 911 that evening because she was concerned about his behavior. She told a dispatcher that her husband had a gun and was leaving their home, according to a recording of the 911 call released by the New Jersey attorney general’s office.
Cobbertt, who filed an internal affairs complaint with Newton police Aug. 5, believes police would have responded differently had her brother been white and not Black.
“His wife called for someone to come and help because she feared that he may take his own life,” said Cobbertt, 52, who lives in Bloomfield. “She called for someone to help. She said it twice. When they came, that was not the case. They murdered my brother.”
Cobbertt and Dale spoke at a vigil held for Dale on Saturday in Newton, a town in Sussex County about 60 miles northwest of New York City. The town’s population was estimated at 8,019 in July 2019, 89.7 percent of whom are white, according to census data. Black people account for 4.7 percent of Newton’s population.
Newton police declined to comment Monday, referring all questions to the state attorney general’s office, which is investigating Dale’s death in pursuance with a state law enacted in January 2019. The law requires the attorney general’s office to investigate deaths that occur during encounters with on-duty law enforcement officers or while the decedents are in custody. The employment status of the three officers who responded is unclear.
Officers Steven Kneidl and Garrett Armstrong shot at Dale shortly after 9:30 p.m. on July 4, the attorney general’s office said in a statement this month.
A redacted video released by the attorney general’s office shows that Dale was trying to leave in a pickup truck when police arrived. At that point, “the officers’ body-worn cameras were activated and recording the events that transpired,” the statement says.
Dale heeded the officers’ commands to get out of the vehicle, according to the statement and the body-camera videos. 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 repeatedly yelled, “Get out of the truck.” According to the attorney general’s office, Dale again got out of the vehicle, this time “with an object in his hand.”
Kneidl and Armstrong then fired their guns at him, striking the vehicle and fatally wounding Dale, authorities said.
A .45-caliber Glock 21 firearm was recovered near Dale, the attorney general’s statement says.
Karen Dale, who could not be reached for an interview Monday, could be heard on the 911 call saying: “The cops are on their way. For you. Because you’re acting crazy.”
Cobbertt said her brother was having a PTSD breakdown, a mental disturbance.
“I think what played a big factor were those fireworks in his area,” she said, adding that they might have triggered his condition.
She said she believes that because of her brother’s race, police took no measures to de-escalate the situation.
“They see us differently. And they treat us differently,” she said.
She also questioned why police responded with their guns drawn.
Cobbertt and Rick Robinson, chairman of the Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board, contend that the police department has not been transparent enough. They said they want to see unedited video of the encounter and to know the identity of a third officer who was at the scene. The attorney general’s office said that officer has not been publicly identified because the officer did not fire a weapon.
In an interview Monday, Robinson said Dale 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.
“We’re talking about somebody who had a stellar background,” Cobbertt said. “He worked at the Pentagon. You can’t just get into that job. They do extensive background checks for everything. You couldn’t have a blemish on your record in order to get a job like that.”
She said Dale was the second oldest of six children and the only boy.
Robinson, the chairman of the Newark NAACP Criminal Justice Committee, organized the vigil for Dale, which drew about 50 people. He said the redacted videos have raised questions about the police response.
“The video shows two officers,” he said. “But it was really three officers. It doesn’t show the entire footage of the entire matter.”
Newton is a small town, Robinson said, which is why he believes officers should have known they were responding to the home of an Army veteran in distress triggered by the Fourth of July holiday. Dale lived in the town — where he and his wife raised three daughters — for 28 years, his sister and Robinson said.
“He was not given the benefit of the doubt,” Robinson said. “This is what’s actually troubling to the family.”
Like Cobbertt, Robinson said he also believes police did not use tactics to fully gauge the situation.
“In this particular instance, we have an armed forces hero, and he was taken away from his family and from the community, and it is really shameful that the engagement resulted in something like this,” Robinson said.
Steven Young, the president of the National Action Network of South Jersey, attended the vigil Saturday and has made efforts to set up a meeting between Cobbertt and the attorney general.
According to the attorney general’s office, investigators met with Dale’s family and their attorney to review the video recordings on July 30. Cobbertt said an uncle attended the meeting on her family’s behalf out of concern that the videos would be too graphic for her and Karen Dale.
“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,” Young said. “So your approach should have been thinking that way, as well.”
He added: “We got the 911 call stating that he needs help, not to be assassinated.”
Cobbertt said she and her siblings, as well as Dale’s wife, are distraught and in shock.
“He just needed help,” she said. “If they would have approached him differently, he would still be alive.”
Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather
A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.
The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.
“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.
The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.
In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.
Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.
“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”
The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.
“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”
Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.
More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.
Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.
Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.
The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.
So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.
Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.
“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”
Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park
A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.
The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.
He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.
The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.
The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.
“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”
Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.
The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.
House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight
House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.
The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.
The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.
The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.
Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.
“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”
It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.
The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.
However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.
Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.
Haley Talbot contributed.
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