Questions in Officer’s Killing of C.E.O. in Newark


Published: July 20, 2010

NEWARK — Returning to New Jersey for his 30th high school reunion, DeFarra Gaymon had the kind of life one would not mind describing to old friends: he was a C.E.O., married, father of four. But Mr. Gaymon, who was in the Chess Club, the French Club, the Italian Club and the student coalition at Montclair High School, never made it to the party on Friday night at the Crowne Plaza Meadowlands.

Credit Union of Atlanta, via Star Ledger

DeFarra Gaymon, in New Jersey for a reunion, was fatally shot in Branch Brook Park.

Richard Perry/The New York Times

Branch Brook Park is known as a pickup spot for sex.

Instead, as other members of the class of 1980 were collecting their name tags, Mr. Gaymon, known as Dean, lay dying at the University Hospital in Newark, having been shot in the chest by a police officer in Branch Brook Park, a few miles away.
On Tuesday, the acting Essex County prosecutor gave the first detailed, public description of what happened in the wooded park that night, saying that the officer, who had tried to arrest Mr. Gaymon, 48, over lewd behavior, fired in self-defense. The prosecutor, Robert D. Laurino, said that Mr. Gaymon assaulted the officer, a 29-year-old member of the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, tried to flee and then, when cornered, attempted to disarm the officer.
Mr. Gaymon’s family released a statement that said, in part, “We know that the police killed an innocent man, with no history of or disposition towards violence.” A man who answered the phone at the family’s home in Suwanee, Ga., said no one there had more to say.
A fatal shooting in Newark on a Friday night is hardly a rare occurrence, but this was neither the usual spot nor the usual suspects, leaving many questions.
The officer, whose name was not released because of his undercover work, had been on what is not usually a particularly dangerous assignment, scouring the park, in northern Newark, for men seeking sex.
Mr. Gaymon was a successful businessman, the president and chief executive of Credit Union of Atlanta. On the Web site of the Credit Union Executives Society, Mr. Gaymon said his “ultimate career goals” were to lead a $150-million-plus credit union and provide “financial literacy programs that help employees and members become financially savvy.”
He added, “It’s just my passion to share information that can change a person’s financial life.”
Mr. Gaymon was one of the organizers of the reunion, which he drove up to attend. “All the people that knew him say you never met a kinder, nicer, more gentle person, and they’re stunned about what happened,” said John Joyce, the president of the Montclair High School Alumni Association.
The officer and his partner were patrolling the park in plain clothes, part of an operation that has been going on for years, said Mr. Laurino, the prosecutor.
Around 6 p.m., after chasing down a man and arresting him, the officer realized he had lost his handcuffs in the pursuit and went back into the woods, alone, to retrieve them, the prosecutor said.
“The plainclothes officer was bending down to retrieve his handcuffs,” Mr. Laurino said, “when he was approached by Mr. Gaymon, who was engaged in a sexual act at the time.” Words were exchanged that the prosecutor said “would lead one to believe that” Mr. Gaymon was propositioning the officer.
“The officer pulled out his badge, identified himself as a police officer and informed Mr. Gaymon that he was under arrest,” Mr. Laurino said. Then, he said, Mr. Gaymon shoved the officer to the ground and ran, ignored the officer’s demands to stop, and repeatedly threatened to kill the officer if he approached. The officer cornered Mr. Gaymon beside a pond and tried to handcuff him, Mr. Laurino said, but again Mr. Gaymon resisted.
“Mr. Gaymon reached into his pocket and lunged at the officer in an attempt to disarm the officer,” Mr. Laurino said. The officer, “fearing for his life,” the prosecutor said, shot Mr. Gaymon once, and he died at the hospital three hours later.
Mr. Laurino’s statement was based on an account given by the officer to investigators. Prosecutors said they knew of no one else who saw what happened, and they asked that any witnesses step forward.
The authorities said they did not interview the officer until Monday night, because he was being medicated and treated for trauma. He has not been approved to return to duty.
The shooting took place near where Bloomfield Avenue crosses Branch Brook Park, an area known for years as a place for sexual encounters among men, some of them prostitutes. Mr. Laurino said the sexual activity had prompted many complaints and many arrests, though he declined to say how many.
Willie Velez, 66, a volunteer at a visitor center in the park, said that he often saw men going into the bushes or into cars in pairs, and that on Saturday and Sunday mornings he often found several used condoms in the parking lot.
When Robert Gram, 28, was growing up nearby, his mother warned him to steer clear of the male prostitutes strolling the park. “You still see them sometimes,” Mr. Gram said, though less often in recent years, with increased police patrols.
People who frequent the park said the encounters could be brazen.
Kevin Davis, 43, a landscaper, said he had come across people having sex in the bushes and had even seen people driving while naked.
“They got no shame in the game,” Mr. Davis said.
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.