DeFarra Gaymon was shot to death in Newark’s Branch Brook Park on July 16, 2010.
The family of a Georgia man who was shot and killed by an Essex County deputy sheriff during a 2010 sex sting in a Newark park settled their civil rights lawsuit against the county and the sheriff’s office for $1.5 million.
“The amount telegraphs that the Essex County sheriff’s department did something very wrong,” said William Dobbs, a longtime gay activist and attorney who has followed the case. “Like too many deaths at the hands of law enforcement, taxpayer money is used to pay off the aggrieved. Meanwhile, no officers, so far, have been punished or disciplined in any way.”
According to a document filed in federal court on July 23, Christopher Kinum, the lawyer who represented DeFarra Gaymon’s family, will receive a standard fee equivalent to roughly one third of the settlement and the remaining amount will be divided among Gaymon’s widow, Mellanie, and his four children.
DeFarra Gaymon, an Atlanta credit union executive, was unarmed when shot to death by deputy sheriff in city park
Gaymon, 48 at the time of his death, had driven from Atlanta, where he was the chief executive at a credit union, to Newark to attend his high school reunion. The deputy sheriff who killed him, Edward Esposito, was on a public sex sting in Newark’s Branch Brook Park. Esposito was 29 at the time of the shooting.
In a statement that Esposito wrote three days after the killing, he charged that Gaymon, who was not armed, approached him in the park with his penis out of his pants. When he tried to arrest the older man, Esposito said Gaymon grew aggressive. The shooting took place after a foot chase in the park and Gaymon threatened to kill him, said Esposito, who is the sole witness. An Essex County grand jury declined to charge him.
Arrest records obtained by Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s leading LGBT lobbying group, show that Esposito was involved in three 2009 public sex arrests that turned violent. The arrest of a man for public sex by Esposito and his partner that occurred right before the Gaymon killing in 2010 was also violent.
While never saying so explicitly, the family countered that the shooting was little more than a murder.
“At the time he was shot, Defarra was unarmed and helpless, and in no way posed a threat to Defendant Officer Esposito’s safety or to the safety of any other persons,” wrote Kinum in a 2013 brief. In a separate brief, Kinum said that he was relying on “Officer Esposito’s written statement made three days after the shooting.”
The Gaymon killing sparked calls from Garden State Equality and the ACLU of New Jersey for a US Department of Justice inquiry into the incident and an independent inquiry by the state attorney general.
Advocates said that records related to the shooting that were released in the Gaymon family lawsuit showed that the sheriff’s investigation into the killing was insufficient. It is not known if Esposito is still employed by the Essex County sheriff’s department.
Calls seeking comment to Kinum and to James Paganelli, the county counsel, were not returned.
The county may have spent nearly $700,000 or more defending the lawsuit. By 2012, it allocated $420,000 for law firms to represent the county, Esposito, and other defendants. In 2013, it allocated $260,000 to defend the case. The county’s insurer was reluctant to settle.
“My office is always willing to sit and discuss a resolution,” Paganelli said at a June 2013 meeting of the county freeholders. “We need some cooperation from our excess insurance who has not been very enthusiastic toward settlement. It’s early in the case in terms of discovery… I think the insurance company wants to see how this is going to play out a little bit before engaging in settlement discussions.”
A video of the meeting is posted online. Last year, Paganelli appeared to believe that the case would never be resolved.
“We may end up with two separate versions of what may have transpired that night,” he said.