Grand Jury Declines Charges in NJ Sex Sting Killing
There will be no charges brought against a New Jersey police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man in a park last year, allegedly after the man tried to attack the officer during a sex sting.
Defarra Gaymon, a 48-year-old businessman from Atlanta, Georgia, was in the state for a high school class reunion. The fatal scuffle took place on July 16, 2010, in Branch Brook Park, which is located in Newark, NJ. According to the officer, Edward Esposito, 30, Gaymon assailed him when Esposito flashed his badge after encountering Gaymon in a wooded area of the park, which is known to be a cruising ground. After a chase, Esposito said, Gaymon threatened and then lunged at him.
An Essex County grand jury found that no criminal misdeed had taken place in the shooting, the New York Times reported on June 28.
A July 20, 2010, New York Times article described the events leading up to the tragedy. A pair of undercover police officers -- one of them Esposito -- were patrolling the park, on the lookout for public sexual activity. The patrol was part of a program targeting public sexual activity in the park. The program had resulted in about 200 arrests in the previous year and a half.
Esposito said that he had become separated from his partner at about 6:00, having lost his handcuffs while pursuing a suspect. It was while retrieving his lost handcuffs that Esposito allegedly encountered Gaymon, who, according to officials, was already displaying sexual conduct when the two encountered one another. Officials say that Gaymon then propositioned the officer, at which point the officer identified himself. Gaymon allegedly then knocked the officer down and fled, leading to the chase. When Esposito caught up with Gaymon, he allegedly threatened Esposito’s life and then reached into his pocket and lunged at the officer, who shot him in the stomach, thinking that Gaymon had a weapon.
"There was never a doubt that the use of force was an absolute last resort and justified in all aspects," Esposito’s attorney, Charles J. Sciarra, told the press.
Esposito remains confined to desk duty.
"All the people that knew him say you never met a kinder, nicer, more gentle person, and they’re stunned about what happened," the Montclair High School Alumni Association’s John Joyce told the New York Times. Gaymon had helped to organize the 30-year reunion of his class, the 2010 article said.
The police expressed their condolences over the shooting, but Gaymon’s family members reiterated their doubts. "There’s nothing threatening about his character," Kelly Gaymon Armstrong, the sister of the deceased, told the Star-Ledger. "He’s a softie. It doesn’t add up."
Said former Montclair classmate Kerry Asbury, "[Reunion attendees] were shocked to hear about the death. He wasn’t that type of guy. But we don’t know what happened."
An officer with the Newark police envisioned a situation in which "[Gaymon’s] life must have flashed before his eyes and he went into a panic."
Esposito was reportedly so traumatized by the shooting that he was treated with medication.
"This is a very sad and painful case but a grand jury -- the voice of the community -- has determined no crime was committed," Acting Prosecutor Carolyn Murray told the press, according to a June 29 Star-Ledger article. "We must respect that decision."
But Gaymon’s family still dispute Esposito’s version of what happened, and they are suing. They have declined to address publicly whether Gaymon might have been gay or bisexual, or whether he might have been an MSM.
MSM, or "men who have sex with men," frequently identify as heterosexual, despite seeking occasional sexual encounters with others of the same gender. In March of 2010, Los Angeles police arrested a number of men for public sex in parks. Many of the men were Hispanic, and claimed to be heterosexual.
"Very typically these are married man who do not identify themselves as gay," LAPD Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz told the media during a March 12, 2010, press conference. "Many of these men are Hispanic," continued Diaz. "Many are monolingual Spanish speakers."
Regardless of why Gaymon was in the park, questions linger about the level of force used in the incident.
"The bottom line is that Defarra Gaymon was a peaceful and successful man who was shot and killed while unarmed in broad daylight in Branch Brook Park," attorney Christopher Kinum said. "His wife, parents and four young children miss him immensely."