Leroy Boyd

Leroy Boyd had lived in Newark for ten years, after moving to the city from his birthplace of Virginia. There, he had two children with his ex-wife before relocating to Newark. By the summer of 1967, Boyd lived in a second-floor apartment on Belmont Avenue, just south of Avon Avenue, and worked at a paper company in Elizabeth. That summer, Leroy Boyd’s older son, Richard, had come to visit when the Newark rebellion broke out following the arrested and beaten of taxi driver John Smith outside the Fourth Precinct on July 12, 1967.  

On Friday, July 14th, Leroy and Richard Boyd walked to Belmont Drugs on the corner of Belmont and Avon Avenues after Leroy returned home from work around 5:00 P.M. When they got there, the Boyds found Gladys Baker, Leroy’s domestic partner, and four men looting the store. Moments later, Newark police arrived and everyone besides Richard Boyd was lined up against the front of the store.

After being detained, Leroy Boyd began to shout that he was not looting and pleaded with police to release he and Baker. The two were released after a Black police officer spoke on his behalf, and Boyd and Baker stood chatting with the officer in front of the store while the police waited for a wagon to take the others to jail. As the police and looters waited, the crowd grew and became increasingly tense.

There are two conflicting stories about what happened next, making Boyd’s one of the most mysterious deaths of the rebellion. One story comes from Newark policeman Harry Kearny, the other from Richard Boyd. According to Kearny, a belligerent spectator confronted him as Newark police tried to contain the crowd while waiting for the paddy wagon to arrive. The spectator, Alfred Swift, began shouting at police before confronting Kearny.

‘Finally, I told him to step back and when he didn’t I took a step towards him and tried to hit him with the shotgun to push him back,’ Kearny recalled. ‘He grabbed the shotgun and we struggled and it went off. I didn’t know right away who was hit because I was struggling for a minute…’ According to official reports, the shotgun blast hit Leroy Boyd in the side, and Shelly Gooden, a Black police officer, in the arm.

According to Swift, however, he approached police to ask if he could move his truck, as police and Guardsmen had obstructed the road. When he raised his hand to shout to an officer, Swift said, an officer ‘hit me from behind with a blackjack. When I went down, another cop hit me with the butt of his shotgun on my forehead.’

Richard Boyd’s story is at great odds with Kearny’s. As the police were pushing back the crowd, according to the 13-year-old, ‘Just then a then, bearded man in a blue uniform appeared out of the crowd and fired a gun at the colored policeman standing near my father. The bullet hit my father instead.” According to Richard Boyd, the man shouted to Shelly Gooden that he meant to hit him, saying ‘You should be on our side and not theirs—I meant to shoot you.’

This unidentified bearded man, according to Richard Boyd, did not resemble Kearny, Gooden, or Swift. Richard Boyd said that he had even seen the man around his father’s apartment building before. Strangely, Richard Boyd’s story about this mysterious shooter was never introduced as evidence before the Essex County Grand Jury.

Regardless of who shot Leroy Boyd, the 37-year-old man lay dying on the sidewalk outside Belmont Drugs while policeman Shelly Gooden was tended to. According to Boyd’s autopsy report he was hit “in the left side of his back” by a single shot. Adding yet another mysterious twist, however, the funeral director and Boyd’s brother, Emmett, both insisted that Leroy had been shot six times after examining his body.

Leroy Boyd was dead at the age of 37 after having been shot outside of a drug store that he had not participated in looting. ‘My father was laying on the sidewalk holding his left side and Gladys was beside him holding onto his arm,’ his son Richard said. ‘Leroy, stop playing,’ she said. I heard my father say, ‘I’m not playing.’ He took his hand away and the blood flowed out…two days later we read in the newspaper that my daddy was dead.”

The Essex County Grand Jury found “no cause for indictment” of any involved shooter.

References:

Ronald Porambo, No Cause for Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark

Presentment of the Eighth Essex County Grand Jury

Grand Jury Report on Death of Leroy Boyd

Grand Jury Report on Death of Leroy Boyd

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Grand Jury report describing the fatal shooting of 34-year-old Leroy Boyd on July 14, 1967, who was shot when a “patrolman’s shotgun was accidentally discharged, wounding another patrolman in the arm and fatally wounding Boyd.” The Grand Jury found “no cause for indictment.” — Credit: Newark Public Library

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