When Brooklyn-based freelance journalist Duncan Osbourne (left) — who has reported extensively on issues related to public sex and lewdness for Gay City News and other media — heard the reports about the Dean Gaymon case last summer, it caught his attention.
Gaymon, a Montclair native who resided in Atlanta, GA, was shot and killed in Branch Brook Park on July 16 by Essex County Sheriff’s Office detective Edward Esposito, then 29 years old. The detective claimed that the unarmed victim had been involved in a sexual act, and that when Esposito identified himself and attempted to arrest Gaymon, he fled. After a chase, Esposito said that Gaymon threatened to kill him and lunged for him, at which time the detective discharged his weapon.
The case is currently pending a Grand Jury hearing. According to Katherine Carter, spokesperson for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the case should be heard “sometime soon.” In the meantime, however, Osbourne began to do some investigative work of his own, and found something very familiar about the story.
In 2005, Osbourne did a great deal of reporting on a series of cases where men were arrested for public lewdness in Bergen County’s Palisades Interstate Park. Defense attorneys for those men argued that the police, the prosecutor and the judge were motivated by anti-gay bias. “In these cases, the police asked suspects to ‘show me what you got’ before identifying themselves as law enforcement, and then arrested them the minute they exposed themselves,” Osbourne told Baristanet in a phone conversation. The issue of entrapment was used as a defense in a number of these cases, and in several instances the sentencing was later minimized after a harsher initial ruling.
Osbourne found similar patterns in Gaymon’s case — as well as others in both Branch Brook Park and South Mountain Reservation — as he systematically read through court documents and attorney reports that were obtained through an open records request by Garden State Equality after the July incident. “I read everything I could get my hands on,” he said. “The Gaymon case is so shocking. I want to find out how this happened — how you go from a man entering a park alone and unarmed to him being fatally shot by a police officer.”
What Osbourne has uncovered suggests that Esposito used violence on a suspect before Gaymon. In an article for Gay City News, published last week, Osbourne states his findings that “Edward Esposito, the Essex County Sheriff’s Office detective who shot and killed an unarmed DeFarra Gaymon in Newark’s Branch Brook Park last July, may have been involved in at least three 2009 public sex arrests that also turned violent.”
According to Osbourne, “The New Jersey lewdness statute, which falls under the header “disorderly persons,” requires that the act be “flagrantly lewd and offensive” and that the person “knows or reasonably expects to be observed by another non-consenting person who would be affronted or alarmed.” The wording of the law “forces police officers to pull tricks on suspects to get them to do something that can be defined as ‘lewd’ by the law,” said Osbourne.
Some of the Palisades Parks defendants had their sentences reduced because of the entrapment element, and Osbourne believes that the botched Gaymon arrest might have fallen into this same category. What’s more, he believes that police officers might be perfectly willing to lie about the circumstances leading up to arrests in these cases.
“This tale of aggressive men who are cruising in New Jersey parks grabbing undercover officers is one that detectives in the Essex County Sheriff’s Office have told many times before. And there are some good reasons to doubt them,” Osbourne wrote in a recent article, which appeared in Gay City News on 12/23.
While we’ll probably never know what really happened between Esposito and Gaymon in Branch Brook Park last July, Osbourne is trying hard to find a paper trail that might offer clues. Since officers are required to file a “use of force” report whenever they use forceful efforts in an arrest, Osbourne is making every effort to locate Esposito’s reports from the other three public lewdness arrests that have indicated violence. He continues to search the records and is trying to find out whether other agencies might have reports he hasn’t yet seen. “I’m working on a follow-up to this last article,” he said.
Read Duncan Osbourne’s most recent story on the Dean Gaymon case here.