DeFarra Gaymon, a prominent CEO from Georgia, made a trip north last month to attend his high-school reunion in New Jersey, an event he spent countless hours planning over the past year. He never made it to the reunion.
The 48-year-old married father of four was shot and killed by an undercover officer in a popular gay-cruising spot.
Essex County Office Edward Esposito, an eight-year veteran, was conducting an undercover operation to stem public-sex acts in Newark’s Branch Brook Park July 16 when he said Gaymon, who was masturbating, propositioned him. Esposito, 29, said he identified himself as an officer and Gaymon attempted to flee, allegedly threatening to kill the officer as he ran. A scuffle ensued, during which Esposito said Gaymon attempted to disarm him while reaching into his own pocket, which Esposito said made him fear for his own life and prompted him to shoot.
The New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into the incident, although the New Jersey Attorney General has declined to get involved. But even with a full and thorough investigation, it may be impossible to ever discern what happened that evening, since one of the parties cannot tell his version of the story.
Esposito seemed to allege that Gaymon, who was unarmed, utilized all of the typical actions that would give an officer just cause to shoot — threatening his life, reaching for a gun, putting his hand in his pocket — which may raise the question of whether the officer is spinning the story so it’ll be neatly classified as a justified shooting.
The shooting also draws attention to the police department’s sting-operation tactics. While the department has said the park detail, which has been in place for about five years and was suspended after the shooting, was created to contend with growing public-lewdness complaints, the fact that this was a park frequented by gay men could have allowed a certain level of homophobia to creep into the officers’ work. For instance, if an unarmed woman had propositioned the officer and a scuffle occurred, would the officer have used lethal force?
And while no one will ever know exactly what led Gaymon to Branch Brook Park that night, if he was indeed looking for sex with a man, the fact that the married father had to turn to a park for sex illuminates the possible fatal effects of homophobia.
If Gaymon was gay and in a situation where he could confront and accept his orientation — even after marrying a woman — he may have been able to find other men in safer settings. But those who are compelled to stay in the closet may stay in the shadows and find a more dangerous outlet, potentially risking their lives to avoid being forced out.