August 22, 2010

UPDATE: NOW THE FUNERAL Previous: "Atlanta CEO fatally shot in Newark park by Essex sheriff's detective was visiting N.J. for reunion"

" A Fatal Encounter in a Newark Park"
Richard Perry/The New York Times
Branch Brook Park.

FRIDAY afternoon was sliding at last toward evening, with what promised to be a weekend of memories and laughter ahead. Defarra Gaymon, 48, the charming and dapper chief executive of a credit union 900 miles south in Atlanta, had been back in his boyhood home in New Jersey for only a matter of hours, and already he was supposed to be in two different places at once.
Anne McQuary for The New York Times
MEMORIAL DeFarra Gaymon’s funeral.
He had told a former pastor that he planned on attending Family Vacation Bible School at St. Paul Baptist Church in Montclair, the church where he married his high school girlfriend, Mellanie Peoples, more than 20 years and four children ago. The class was to begin at 6 p.m. that day, July 16. At that exact time, he was due at Egan & Sons, an upscale Irish pub a mile away, to join a reunion of alumni from Montclair High School, where he graduated in 1980.
But on that Friday, Mr. Gaymon went to neither the church nor the pub, choosing instead a third destination that would shock his friends and co-workers — people who believed they really knew the man — in the days and weeks ahead.
He went to Branch Brook Park, a 115-year-old grassy belt of ponds and fountains surrounded by gritty Newark. In polite circles and press releases, the park is best known for its cherry blossoms; in other circles and news stories it is also well known as a destination for gay men seeking anonymous trysts in the overgrown thickets and patches of forest.
Edward Esposito, 29, was also in the park that day. An eight-year veteran of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, Officer Esposito was working undercover to arrest men soliciting sex.
Officer Esposito Shot Dean Gaymon, 48.

An awkward alliance has been struck since the shooting: Mr. Gaymon’s family, which has insisted that he was not gay, has been joined by gay groups who have made the shooting a centerpiece of their campaign to stop undercover work in parks. The Sheriff’s Office did suspend the operation, saying it needed to make some adjustments, but beefed up patrols by officers in uniform.
The suspension was “a prudent thing to do when something of this magnitude happens,” Sheriff Fontoura said in an interview. He said he was working with local gay rights groups to curtail lewd activity, adding: “If people comply with the laws, we won’t need this undercover operation anymore.”
Officer Esposito was transferred to the Office of Emergency Management while the prosecutor’s office investigates. He answered a reporter’s knock on his door the week after the shooting and asked for privacy. His lawyer said he would testify before a grand jury, whose review is standard in police shootings, about what happened the evening of July 16.
“We are confident that when this mandatory investigation is concluded,” said the lawyer, Charles J. Sciarra, “all of his actions will be deemed a necessary and justified use of force.”
Two weeks after the shooting, Officer Esposito held a party at his home in Florham Park for his approaching 30th birthday, though Mr. Riccio described the atmosphere as more subdued than celebratory. People talked around the shooting, not addressing it directly; someone asked if Officer Esposito was losing sleep, and he said that he was.
“We were more like, ‘Are you O.K.? Are you doing all right?’ ” Mr. Riccio said. “Ed said that the only time he feels normal is when he is mowing his lawn, like it was a brief escape for him.”
On recent visits to Branch Brook Park, only the odd jogger or stroller-pushing parent walked past the notorious woods. Officers in uniform parked and chatted on the side of the road.
The shooting seems to have done what hundreds of arrests over the years never could: keep men looking for sex out of the park.
These are excerpts from
Alain Delaquérière, Lois DeSocio, Emily B. Hager, Nate Schweber, Jack Styczynski and Karen Zraick contributed reporting.

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