CEO's family calls police account 'blatant lie'
The ACLU and gay rights groups in New Jersey are calling for an independent investigation into the shooting death of an Atlanta bank CEO during a raid of a New Jersey park last Friday.
The police say the shooting was a lone officer's response to being physically threatened; the CEO's family dispute that claim, and civil liberties groups suspect anti-gay sentiment may have played a factor in the police raid.
DeFarra Gaymon, described in the press as a 48-year-old father of four and the CEO of the Credit Union of Atlanta, was shot and killed by an unnamed police officer in Newark's Branch Brook Park during an undercover police raid of "public sex" in the park on July 17. Gaymon was shot once in the chest and died in a nearby hospital. He had been attending his 30th high school reunion at nearby Montclair High.
Now the Essex County prosecutor's office has released the police officer's account of the events that led up to Gaymon's death, and the CEO's family says they're not buying it.
According to the account, the undercover officer had returned to the park to look for a missing pair of handcuffs he had evidently left there during an earlier raid, when he allegedly encountered Gaymon, who the officer says was openly masturbating. The New York Times reports:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The plainclothes officer was bending down to retrieve his handcuffs,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr. Laurino said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“when he was approached by Mr. Gaymon, who was engaged in a sexual act at the time.Ã¢â‚¬Â Words were exchanged that the prosecutor said Ã¢â‚¬Å“would lead one to believe thatÃ¢â‚¬Â Mr. Gaymon was propositioning the officer.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The officer pulled out his badge, identified himself as a police officer and informed Mr. Gaymon that he was under arrest,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr. Laurino said. Then, he said, Mr. Gaymon shoved the officer to the ground and ran, ignored the officerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mr. Gaymon reached into his pocket and lunged at the officer in an attempt to disarm the officer,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr. Laurino said. The officer, Ã¢â‚¬Å“fearing for his life,Ã¢â‚¬Â the prosecutor said, shot Mr. Gaymon once, and he died at the hospital three hours later.
Gaymon's family is disputing that account. "The statement is a blatant lie concocted after four days of unexplained silence," the family said in a statement sent to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"Dean Gaymon was a nonviolent, non-aggressive and nonthreatening person his entire life," the statement said. "It would have been completely and totally against his nature to 'tussle' with a police officer, to resist authority, to assault a police officer ... Words such as 'I am going to kill you' would not be uttered from him.
"Essex County has wrongfully taken Dean GaymonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s life and with him not being here to present his side of the story, they are now attempting to defame him in death and to kill his name and reputation in addition to his body. Our family will not stand by and allow this to occur."
Now the Newark Star-Ledger reports that the ACLU and several gay-rights groups in New Jersey have joined forces to call for an independent investigation into Gaymon's death.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said: "We make no assumption as to the sexual orientation of the victim. Nor do we condone lewdness, but any sting operation targeting gay men or LGBT people specifically, or anyone perceived as such, is unconscionable Ã¢â‚¬â€ and as we strongly believe, illegal."
"What we have here is a situation where an unarmed citizen ends up dead as a result of what would have been a minor crime," Deborah Jacobs, executive director for the ACLU in New Jersey, told the Star-Ledger. "Considering the seriousness of the incident and many unanswered questions, this investigation demands the legitimacy that only an external review can provide."
A spokeswoman for the Essex County prosecutor's office told ABC News that she had no response to the Gaymon family's assertions. She said the issue would be investigated by a grand jury. Under New Jersey law, all deaths at the hands of police officers are investigated by a grand jury to determine if the death was justified.