The gay community in New Jersey is lashing out at police who claim an undercover policeman shot an unarmed man in a cruisey area of a park because he feared for his life.
The shooting happened on July 16 in Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City. DeFarra Gaymon was shot and killed by a sheriff’s detective who says he was attempting to arrest Gaymon for public lewdness. Read a mainstream press account here.
Representatives of the county prosecutor’s office say the undercover plainclothes officer, who has yet to be identified, spotted Gaymon, a 48-year-old married (to a woman) father of four, masturbating in the park. Gaymon approached the cop and propositioned him for sex.
When the cop flashed his badge, Gaymon “repeatedly threatened to kill the officer.” After a brief scuffle, in which Gaymon allegedly “attempted to disarm the officer,” the cop shot Gaymon once in the abdomen. He died later that day in the hospital.
Gay activists say they doubt nearly every part of the police account.
“An unarmed man who was allegedly caught with his pants down was so threatening that he deserved to be shot?” asks Steven Goldstein, chair of the New Jersey gay rights group Garden State Equality. “That’s obscene. That’s outrageous. We can’t stand for it.”
Goldstein is demanding an official investigation into the killing.
“It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to read the officer’s account and realize that it doesn’t make sense,” he says.
William Dobbs, a New York City activist who monitors police entrapment cases, says the police account seems implausible.
“While the phrase ‘public sex’ is thrown around to inflame passions, the park here was a public venue,” he says. “Those who seek hookups in such locales traditionally shield their activities from uninterested parties.”
There is a pattern of harassment of gay men in the area, New Jersey activists say. Besides Branch Brook Park, where police admit they have run an undercover operation for years, dozens of men have also been arrested in nearby South Mountain Reservation and Palisades Interstate Park.
Toby Grace, editor of the online publication Out in Jersey, says the Palisades Interstate Park Police Department’s entrapment of gay men in cruising areas is “out of control” in recent years.
Goldstein says he has requested arrest records from the park in an effort to determine if a sting operation was taking place in Branch Brook Park.
“We’re seeing the possible targeting of gay men,” says Goldstein, “and it’s really not acceptable.”
Dobbs says counting arrests now is too little, too late.
“Several hundred arrests have been made in that park over a year and a half,” he says. “Where has Garden State Equality been? How much money has been wasted on this operation?
Meanwhile, Gaymon’s family spoke out against the official version of his death.
“I do not believe that story,” his sister, Kelly Gaymon Armstrong, told the New Jersey Star Ledger. “Not one bit. That is not my brother’s character.”