Within hours, Abe’s death was proclaimed a suicide by police, but several unanswered questions remain regarding his death and the police investigation. Abe Dabela’s family and the NAACP are planning a news conference today to further press the issue.
BY Amaris Elliott-Engel
Abe Dabela was 35 years old and life seemed to be going well. He had come to the legal profession late, after a series of jobs in the health care industry, and had recently completed a stint as an associate at a major law firm. He loved riding motorcycles and was passionate about health care, social justice and the Second Amendment.
But the Redding Police and the state medical examiner’s office say he took his own life on April 5, 2014. Now the Connecticut NAACP, along with Dabela’s family, are calling for an investigation into whether the Ethiopian-American attorney was actually murdered.
Here is the police version of events: Gugsa Abraham “Abe” Dabela was only a few minutes from his house in upscale Redding when he flipped his SUV while going around the curve. The vehicle was found at about 1:40 a.m. Dabela had been shot once in the head. A semi-automatic handgun was found in the vehicle.
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP, said in an interview that the civil rights organization plans to put together a team of former law enforcement officers and attorneys to conduct its own investigation. He emphasized that the NAACP has not reached any conclusions about Dabela’s death. But he also said there have been many instances where a black men was lynched or murdered as part of a hate crime and authorities have called the death a “suicide.”
America has a “long deep-rooted history of blacks being found dead at the side of the road by racist people,” said Esdaile, who noted that Redding is 95 percent white.
“Right now, the country is really, really on a cutting edge with racial politics,” Esdaile said. “Here we are in Connecticut with a situation that is very mysterious. … It’s the duty of the NAACP to make sure things are handled right and in accordance with the laws of this country.”
Dabela’s family has listed several questions about the Redding Police Department’s investigation: Why wasn’t a bullet found in the car? Did Dabela’s political views in favor of gun rights and his dealings with Redding police to obtain a gun-carry permit negatively influence the investigation into his death? Why, according to a statement by the family, has “Redding exhibited such indolence and apathy for the last 15 months, despite state crime lab reports that suggest this was potentially a homicide?”
Dabela’s sister, Albab Dabela, also is an attorney. Family members have declined to speak to the media.
Redding Police Chief Doug Fuchs said in a statement that investigators from his department spent hundreds or hours investigating the attorney’s death, and their work has been reviewed by the Connecticut State Police Major Crimes Unit and others, and no one has yet to refute their work. The Danbury News-Times reported that Dabela, when applying for a pistol permit in 2013 with the Redding police, thanked Redding officers for their “service and professionalism” in an email.
Fuchs did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article.
Dabela’s family and the NAACP are planning a news conference in front of the police department [today] Aug. 5 to further press the issue.
Darnell D. Crossland, president of the Norwalk branch of the Connecticut NAACP and a Stamford-based attorney, said the news conference is being held to address the concerns of Dabela’s family and “in light of the fact that there are so many unanswered questions” about Dabela’s death.
According to postings on a motorcycle rider website, DCSportsbike.com, Dabela went to high school in Bethesda, Maryland. On his LinkedIn page, Dabela said he graduated from the University of Maryland and then obtained a master’s in public health from Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he wrote about the problem of Americans without health insurance in the years immediately before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
He then spent the next few years working mostly in health care-related jobs, ranging from outreach coordinator at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to assistant operations manager of a Maryland nursing home.
Dabela attended the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, participating in the school’s securities arbitration clinic and interning at the New York City firm of Schiff Hardin. He received his J.D. in 2011 and was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 2012.
Dabela was hired as an associate in Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman Dicker’s Stamford office, where his practice included alternative dispute resolution, product liability, commercial contracts, insurance coverage and professional liability. The firm did not respond to calls seeking comment.
After working with Wilson Elser for two years, Dabela formally established his own firm in Redding about one month before he was killed.
He also provided pro bono legal advice about Second Amendment rights, some of it coming on online forums such as OpenCarry.org.
After his death, a funeral service for Dabela was held in the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. The service was announced on the DCSportsBike website, on which Dabela was often affectionately referred to known as “Googs.”
“Abe was a great friend to this community and a valued subject matter expert on legal issues,” wrote one poster. “He was always willing to give his advice free of charge, which is an uncharacteristic trait for any lawyer. He was also a true champion of the Second Amendment. I can’t quantify how much I have learned from him. … He was a loyal friend and an avid rider. We lost a good one.”
The NAACP and the Dabela family has asked the public to offer any information they have that could assist in the investigation by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or to call the Connecticut NAACP at 860-523-9962.
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