In town for a high school reunion, DeFarra Gaymon, president/CEO of the Credit Union of Atlanta, was shot and killed by an undercover sheriff's detective July 16 in a Newark, N.J., park.
The Essex County Prosecutor's Office is investigating the shooting that took the life of Gaymon, widely known as Dean, who at 48 was married and the father of four children. Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino held a press conference July 20 providing details of what led to the shooting according to the 29-year-old detective, whose name is not being released because of his undercover work.
Gaymon had arrived in New Jersey July 15 to attend his 30th class reunion at Montclair High School set to take place at the Crowne Plaza Meadowlands hotel. Several media outlets reported that he was involved in planning the reunion and provided updates on his Facebook page.
According to his statement, the detective was at Branch Brook Park July 16 investigating complaints of public sexual activity. He had made an arrest in an unrelated case when he realized that he had lost a pair of handcuffs during the arrest. The detective said that after the suspect was secured, he retraced his steps in an effort to find the missing handcuffs. As he bent down to pick up the handcuffs, the detective said he was approached by Gaymon, "who was engaged in a sex act at the time." Gaymon was alone during the act, said Katherine Carter, press agent for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.
The detective, who has been with the Essex County sheriff's office for eight years, pulled out his badge, identified himself as a police officer and informed Gaymon he was under arrest. The detective said Gaymon appeared to panic, assaulted the police officer and fled. It was not clear how the officer was assaulted. Although other media outlets reported there was a "tussle," Carter said that did not occur. The detective said he chased Gaymon and made "repeated commands to Gaymon to stop and submit."
"Gaymon ignored those commands, did not raise his arms or make his hands visible and repeatedly threatened to kill the officer," according to the detective's statement. "Gaymon then lunged at and attempted to disarm the officer while reaching into his own pocket. Fearing for his life, the officer discharged his service weapon, striking Gaymon once."
The detective said he called for help and rendered first aid to Gaymon, who was rushed to University Hospital in Newark and pronounced dead at 9 p.m. July 16. No weapon was recovered at the scene. Gaymon did not have a gun or any other weapon in his possession, Carter said. An autopsy performed by the Essex County Medical Examiner's Office determined Gaymon died from a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. The detective, who was not physically injured, according to Carter, was taken to the hospital, treated for trauma and released. He remains on paid medical leave and had not been cleared to return to work as of July 21. The weekend after the July 16 shooting, the detective was on medication and under a doctor's care, according to the prosecutor's office.
Many questions still remain about the sequence of events that led to Gaymon being shot and killed. The Gaymon family said it does not believe the detective's statement calling it "inconsistent" and "jumbled." The family said it will ask the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark to immediately take over the investigation.
"It is incomprehensible that a responsible prosecutor would delay this long in interviewing an uninjured police officer that fatally shot an unarmed man," the family said in a statement. "Since when does a police officer get to take a long weekend before being questioned about a highly suspicious shooting, such as this one, which led to a death."
Carter said she could not provide additional details beyond the detective's statement because of the ongoing investigation. However, when asked where the detective's partner was when the detective said he was approached by Gaymon, Carter said the partner was back at his car with the suspect who had been previously arrested. Gaymon was alone when the detective said he was approached by him, Carter said.
"I know there are a lot of questions and over time, they will be answered. The investigation is still ongoing. The crime scene and physical evidence will be presented to the grand jury," Carter said. "The prosecutor will investigate the case, and we will present the findings to the grand jury and then they decide what charges, if any, to bring against the officer."
The Gaymon family said in a statement that "the statement given by the police officer is illogical, inconsistent, nonsensical, twisted, jumbled, bizarre and, on its face, obviously false."
"We are absolutely convinced that the officer's statement is a contemptible lie, and the Essex County prosecutor should be ashamed of presenting this statement to the public prior to the completion of a thorough investigation," the family said.
Carter said that as of July 21, no witnesses had come forward despite the shooting haven taken place at a nearly 360-acre park during daylight hours on a Friday. Established in 1895, the park is considered to be one of the largest city parks in the United States and is home to the largest collection of Japanese flowering trees, according to the park's website. A 24 acre lake is stocked with trout. Despite its history and beauty, the park has seen its share of sordid behavior.
"There has been a long-spanning problem of complaints of sexual activity in the park," Carter said.
Gaymon's death is the ninth police-related shooting this year and the sixth fatal one in Essex County, according to the prosecutor's office.
Meanwhile, employees at the Credit Union of Atlanta were shocked and overwhelmed with phone calls at work July 19. The CU opened an hour later than its usual 9:00 a.m. time, said Cassandra Brown, assistant vice president of marketing and business development. The board of directors held an emergency meeting July 17 and named Tarra Jackson, executive vice president, as the interim CEO.
"This morning was extremely sad," said Brown. "But as you work, you try to do what you have to do."
Brown said the CU's staff went through grief counseling. A memorial has been placed on CU of Atlanta's website in honor of Gaymon.
"We are deeply saddened at the loss of Mr. Gaymon and offer our most sincere sympathy to the Gaymon family," said Calvin Tucker, board chairman of CU of Atlanta in a July 18 statement. "He leaves a legacy that included an unshakeable commitment to the underserved, his staff and the credit union movement. Mr. Gaymon's platform of servant leadership, will be deeply missed."
Gaymon served as president/CEO of CU of Atlanta since 2006. During his tenure, the CU grew to $56 million in assets and more than 15,000 members and launched a rebranding campaign across the Atlanta area. Prior to that, he served as vice president of operations at South Carolina State Credit Union. He started his CU career at Palmetto Health CU in Columbia, S.C.
He joined CUES in 2007. CUES President/CEO Fred Johnson said Gaymon was a central figure in the association's "I Am CUES" campaign.
"I could never remember seeing Dean without that trademark smile and inner warmth that made you comfortable and lucky to be his friend," Johnson said in a message on CUES' website. "Dean's colleagues and classmates remember him as an achievement-oriented CEO, yet always concerned about his staff and credit union members."
The African-American Credit Union Coalition is also mourning Gaymon's loss saying he was a long-time supporter of the group and an "advocate for emerging leaders in the credit union movement."
At press time, Gaymon's funeral was scheduled to take place July 24 at his alma mater Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. In lieu of or in addition to flowers, the CU is asking for donations that will be put toward a scholarship fund in Gaymon's name, Brown said.