Rival factions, secret burial sites, homicidal bosses – the ongoing trial of dozens of members of the Klansman gang in Jamaica is shedding light on how criminal groups function on the island.
The ongoing trial, which began in late September, has seen 33 members of the Klansman gang face charges of criminal organization, murder, arson, extortion and illegal possession of firearms. All have pled not guilty. These members specifically belong to the One Don Gang faction of the Klansman and are based in the southeastern parish of St. Catherine, west of the capital Kingston. Despite the name, the Jamaican gang has no connection to the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist group.
This is a landmark trial for several reasons. It involves the most defendants ever to be tried simultaneously under a single indictment in Jamaica’s history. It reveals grim details about the evolution of gangs in Jamaica and of their leaders, such as Andre Bryan, alias “Blackman,” of the One Don Gang.
The trial’s outcome is also likely to be seen as a bellwether for government efforts to curb escalating violence through Plan Secure Jamaica – a strategic security policy – and new anti-gang legislation that came into effect earlier this year. While the Klansman gang trial is still ongoing, InSight Crime highlights its key takeaways so far.
1. Jamaican Gangs Becoming More Organized
In 2010, Jamaica’s National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) estimated that the country had some 250 active criminal bands on its streets. The vast majority of these, 83 percent, were deemed to be simple “first generation” gangs, focused mainly on controlling small areas and with a loose membership and leadership structure. Another 17 percent were seen as “second generation,” with centralized leadership and involvement in a greater range of criminal economies. But the NIB did not find evidence of “third-generation” structures, characterized by high levels of violence, an identifiable leader, a hierarchical structure and access to powerful individuals and activities involving the gun and drug trade, murders and extortion.
However, according to prosecutors and witnesses in the Klansman trial, this gang is now firmly a third-generation gang. The testimony of two former gang members stated that the Klansman reportedly had some 400 members within its different factions. The gang also had clearly defined roles, corrupt links with the police, international criminal connections and even allegedly carried out hits ordered by a celebrity musician.
The gang’s status and organization also helped rake in the cash. Its primary means of revenue, according to prosecutors, is extortion. One witness said that extortion payments from public transport in Spanish Town ranged between $80,000 to 100,000 a week. One popular loan company, Torpedo, also paid up to $150,000 a month, said the witness, adding that another organization, which he refused to name due to security concerns as it includes “powerful individuals,” paid $200,000 a month. The One Don Gang also reportedly made money through targeted killings and weapons trafficking.
2. The Violence of alias Blackman
The One Don Gang faction of the Klansman was born after an internal power struggle in Spanish Town. Bryan, the faction’s leader, was allegedly once the top hitman for Klansman boss, Tesha Miller. The split dates back to at least 2017, when Bryan appears to have rebelled against Miller and began killing his associates. Bryan’s ability to operate freely was significantly enhanced in 2016 when both men were on trial for the 2008 murder of a senior transport official. While prosecutors said Miller ordered the hit and Bryan was the gunman, Miller was sentenced to over 38 years in jail and Bryan was exonerated.
Witness testimony has painted Bryan as an incredibly violent individual who laughed upon learning targets had been killed. State witnesses said they were forced to join the gang out of fear for their lives.
One witness, who said he was the gang’s “banker” and Bryan’s former driver, recounted an anecdote in which Blackman allegedly asked one of his men to research the country’s murder statistics. After discovering that St. Catherine was ranked behind two other parishes for its homicide rate, he reportedly chastised his cronies for taking too long in working their way down the One Don Gang’s hitlist.
Police have linked the discovery of a clandestine burial site, in the Spanish Town neighborhood of Rivoli, to the Klansman gang. At least two bodies have been found there but police sources believe there could be several more.
3. Female Pastor Ran Klansman Affairs
Only one of the 33 Klansman gang members on trial is a woman. Prosecutors allege that Stephanie Christie, a trained pastor, was in charge of “business affairs” and connections with the police. She faces charges of criminal organization and of facilitating other crimes, such as arson and conspiracy to murder.
Christie was described by witnesses as a fixer who could help smooth over legal troubles. According to one witness quoted by news website Loop News, Christie “would communicate with the police if there is a problem with gangsters, and go to the police and find out the nature of the problem.”
She also reportedly acted as a go-between for Bryan, delivering “sensitive messages” when the gang leader he didn’t want to speak on the phone.
4. Gang Trials Have No Guaranteed Results
Prosecuting a case of this magnitude is a risky affair. The government has a lot at stake as this is the first trial since the two significant pieces of legislation passed earlier this year. The Justice Ministry has set aside a sizable budget to cover the costs of this trial, with over 40 attorneys working on the case.
Nevertheless, the trial could go on for months, and the final outcome remains in doubt. Jamaica’s justice system has a reputation for corruption, and the 2016 murder trial in which Bryan was found not guilty has been criticized.
Another recent gang trial saw mixed results. In 2020, members of the Uchence Wilson gang were on trial for nine months at a high cost for the government. Wilson, the gang leader, was found guilty on a range of charges and jailed for 26 years. But 15 alleged gang members, including a police officer, were acquitted by a judge who said the witness testimony was insufficient. And over a dozen alleged members of the Klansman gang, initially arrested and charged under the anti-gang legislation, have already walked free due to a lack of evidence.