Undercover Officers Can Undermine Public Safety

Wednesday, 28 Jul 2010 04:14 PM

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DeFarra Gaymon of Atlanta, Ga., a married father of four children and a C.E.O. of a credit union, returned to New Jersey to attend the 30th reunion of his Montclair, N.J., high school class.

Instead of enjoying the reunion, which he helped organize, he was shot to death by an undercover police officer patrolling with a partner in Branch Brook Park in Newark, N.J.

The officer, according to the New York Times of July 21, “had been on what is not usually a particularly dangerous assignment, scouring the park, in northern Newark, for men seeking sex.”

As reported by the Times, the officer’s version of what occurred, provided by the acting Essex County prosecutor, Robert D. Laurino, is as follows.

“‘The plainclothes officer was bending down to retrieve his handcuffs,’ Mr. Laurino said, ‘when he was approached by Mr. Gaymon, who was engaged in a sexual act at the time.’ Words were exchanged that the prosecutor said 'would lead one to believe that’ Mr. Gaymon was propositioning the officer. ‘The officer pulled out his badge, identified himself as a police officer and informed Mr. Gaymon that he was under arrest,’ Mr. Laurino said.

"Then, he said, Mr. Gaymon shoved the officer to the ground and ran, ignored the officer’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. ‘Mr. Gaymon reached into his pocket and lunged at the officer in an attempt to disarm the officer,’ Mr. Laurino said.

"The officer, ‘fearing for his life,’ the prosecutor said, shot Mr. Gaymon once, and he died at the hospital three hours later.”

Only two men know what happened and one is dead. However, one need not have been there to feel that this tragedy could have been avoided.

I believe that the officer was solicited for sex. I believe that Mr. Gaymon may have resisted arrest, fearing the adverse consequences to his professional and family life.

I do not believe the officer feared for his life. But even if he did, was he justified in shooting Mr. Gaymon, let alone killing him? I think not.

Wouldn’t it have made sense, if the officer believed he could not subdue Mr. Gaymon without using lethal force to use his radio to summon a fellow cop in the area, or simply let Mr. Gaymon run away?

After all, assuming an arrest and a conviction, the likely punishment would have been a maximum of 15 days in jail, or even a dismissal, depending on the philosophy of the judge with respect to sexual offenses.

It is not a crime to solicit sex. It is a crime to offer payment for a requested sex act. The report of the police officer’s allegations by the prosecutor as reported by the Times does not refer to an offer of payment. But even if there had been, in all likelihood, the sentence would have been suspended.

The Times also reported, “Mr. Gaymon was one of the organizers of the reunion, which he drove up to attend. ‘All the people that knew him say you never met a kinder, nicer, more gentle person, and they’re stunned about what happened,’ said John Joyce, the president of the Montclair High School Alumni Association.”

All of this begs the question of how Newark is using its resources to deter sex offenses of this sort. Sending undercover officers into an area known to be a place for sexual pick-ups is not intended to deter, but rather to ensnare and arrest, while having a uniformed presence would deter.

Having signs warning against public lewdness, e.g., indecent exposure and engaging in public sexual intercourse, could have a positive impact. The public’s rights must also be protected.

Some might say in defense of the police officer’s actions that a life has been taken by a law enforcement officer defending the right of society to protect itself. But are we safer today because of that officer’s action in this case? Hardly.

Four children and a wife now grieve the loss of their father and husband. Newark and any other city seeking to ensnare these men seeking sex with men should hang their heads in shame.

The Stonewall incident in 1969, which happened under Mayor John Lindsay, when gays and transgendered people at a bar in Greenwich Village fought back against the cops attempting to harass and arrest them, proved to be a watershed in the gay civil rights movement, and Mayor Lindsay was responsible for changing the city’s direction.

Let’s hope that Mr. Gaymon’s death in a Newark park, which happened under Mayor Cory Booker, so horrifies people that it will bring about positive change in law enforcement protocols and priorities in Newark and elsewhere, and that Mayor Booker will similarly institute appropriate changes.

Ed Koch was mayor of New York City. His e-mail address is: eikoch@bryancave.com


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