DeFarra Gaymon was an accomplished business and family man who came to New Jersey in the summer of 2010 to attend his 30th high school reunion.
But somewhere on his way to a gathering of old high school friends before heading off to the reunion itself, Gaymon, 48, was shot and killed by an undercover police officer near a pond in Newark’s Branch Brook Park.
The officer, Edward Esposito, 29, claimed that Gaymon, a married father of four who drove to Jersey from Atlanta, propositioned him in an area of the park known for gay cruising. Specifically, Gaymon was masturbating as he approached the officer.
Officer Esposito pulled out his badge and informed Gaymon that he was a cop. Gaymon panicked and pushed him to the ground, Esposito said.
The officer was one of several plainclothes cops assigned to patrol the park for lewd acts. The patrols had been going on for years, according to Essex County authorities.
The officer, who was taken to a hospital and medicated after the shooting, claimed that Gaymon resisted arrest, threatened to kill him and refused to remove his hand from his pocket.
Gaymon ran, the officer said, and was shot once in the abdomen. He died later at nearby Clara Maas Medical Center.
Although Gaymon was unarmed and had no history of violence, Essex County authorities called the shooting “self defense.”
The media pointed out that Esposito once worked as a driver for Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.
The killing shocked those who knew Gaymon, who had left New Jersey to build a successful life for his family. The allegations seemed implausible, his friends and family said.
The media asked: Why would Gaymon, the chief executive officer of a Georgia credit union worth more than $150 million per year, risk his life for an offense that would lead to little more than a fine?
Moreover, why were police spending time patrolling the park for homosexuals when violent crime in Essex was widespread? The police shooting of an unarmed black man in New Jersey was nothing new, the argued.
“We know that the police killed an innocent man with no history or disposition towards violence,” Gaymon’s family stated in a press release.
Gaymon’s widow, Mellanie, filed a lawsuit claiming excessive violence and civil rights violations. In addition to Esposito, the suit names the county sheriff’s office, Sheriff Armando Fontoura and Undersheriff Kevin Ryan. Fountoura and Ryan are accused of failing to provide proper training to Esposito in the use of deadly force.
In March 2012, the federal counts against the sheriff and undersheriff were dismissed. The judge said the case could still proceed in state court.