New Jersey’s Essex County could spend nearly a half million dollars by the end of 2012 to defend against a lawsuit brought by the family of DeFarra Gaymon, a 48-year-old Atlanta bank executive who was unarmed when he was shot and killed in 2010 by an Essex County deputy sheriff who was running a public sex sting in a Newark park.
“Something went very wrong on a beautiful day in Branch Brook Park,” said William K. Dobbs, an attorney and longtime gay activist who has followed the shooting. “An unarmed man killed with a single bullet from a plainclothes sheriff’s officer, no answers from the criminal justice system, a grand jury failed to indict anybody for this death. Now taxpayers in a county that’s already got big financial troubles are going to pay for what is likely terrible police misconduct.”
In July 2010, Edward Esposito, the deputy sheriff, and his partner had just fought with a man who they arrested for public lewdness. Esposito lost his handcuffs during the fight. He went back into the park to find them and he was approached by Gaymon, who “was engaged in a sex act at the time,” according to a 2010 statement by the Essex County prosecutor’s office.
Esposito, then 29, attempted to arrest Gaymon, who fled. A chase ensued. At its end, Esposito said, Gaymon threatened to kill him and lunged at him. Esposito shot and killed Gaymon. In June 2011, a grand jury declined to indict Esposito.
The following month, Gaymon’s wife, his father, and his four children sued Esposito, the county, the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Armando Fontura, and Kevin Ryan, the undersheriff, charging among a number of counts that Gaymon was killed “without legal justification, willfully, recklessly, maliciously, and/ or intentionally” and that the Essex County Sheriff’s Office “specifically targeted a segment of the population based solely on sexual orientation.”
This past November, the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved two $90,000 contracts with two separate law firms, according to board meeting agendas posted online. One firm represents Esposito, while the second represents the other defendants. Those fees were for legal representation for 2011.
On March 14, the board approved two new contracts worth up to $120,000 each with those same firms to represent Esposito and the other defendants through the end of 2012. The county will spend $420,000 altogether on the four contracts if the firms collect every dollar.
In addition to the July 2010 fight and killing that Esposito was involved in, arrest records obtained by Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s statewide gay lobbying group, suggest that Esposito was involved in three 2009 public sex arrests that also turned violent.
The lawsuit began in state court, but has since moved to federal court. The county, the Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff, and the undersheriff moved to have the case against them dismissed. A ruling is pending.
Esposito has filed a counter claim in the case, seeking to have the county indemnify him against any financial penalty he may be assessed should he lose the case.
Gary Kroessig, the board spokesman, declined to comment as did the Gaymon family attorney.