With two police officers avoiding prosecution for killing unarmed black men (Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and just yesterday, Eric Garner in New York City), the nation is engaging in a heated debate about how law enforcement treats communities of color. It’s worth remembering that four years ago, a high-profile case in New Jersey already demonstrated the issue. In that instance, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man after confronting him in a cruising area.
DeFarra “Dean” Gaymon was a married father of four and the CEO of a successful credit union in Atlanta when he returned to Newark in July 2010 for his 30th high school reunion. While his reunion was taking place, he lay dying in a hospital from What happened the night of July 16th depends solely on the word of a single police officer, who was never prosecuted for the crime. It’s all depressingly familiar.
According to the Officer Edward Esposito, Gaymon was “engaged in a sexual act” (apparently masturbating) when he approached the officer, who was dressed in plain clothes, in a Newark park. The park had been the scene of more than 200 arrests over an 18 month period by officers who apparently made a career out of arresting gay men for lewd behavior because there are so few other crimes to pursue in New Jersey.
Esposito says he was bending over to pick up handcuffs (really) when Gaymon propositioned him without any encouragement. Standing up, Esposito told Gaymon he was under arrest.
What followed was, by all accounts of anyone who knew Gaymon, totally unbelievable. Esposito says Gaymon pushed him away, threatened to kill Esposito, reached into his pocket and lunged at the officer in an attempt to disarm him. Esposito says he fired a shot in self defense.
The Essex County sheriff’s department expressed regret about the episode. They also made a point of portraying Gaymon as a bit of a pervert in search of sex in public by playing up the cruising area setting. A grand jury refused to indict Esposito and the state attorney general refused to investigate the case. Esposito had been involved in three other violent arrests in the park.
Gaymon’s family just settled a lawsuit against Essex County for $1.5 million. Of course, that doesn’t bring Gaymon back.