DP: 'Super Cop' Laing's blazing gunfights
Shot 3 times, police sting specialist survives
This is the 28th in a series of close encounters with death by Jamaicans, some of them in prominent positions of the society.
RUGGED former crime-fighter Isaiah Laing has been shot in combat three times, fired at 60 times and has recovered close to 400 illegal guns in the 20 years that he spent in the Jamaica Constabulary Force and even in the 16 years since he left.
As he spoke with the Jamaica Observer late last week, the current chief executive officer of Supreme Promotions — host of the popular annual Boxing Day reggae show, Sting, said he wouldn't change a thing about his experiences taking on some of Jamaica's most ruthless criminals .
Laing, a cousin of prime minister Portia Simpson Miller, has a log of his 20 most memorable gunfights with some of the island's notorious criminals, among them Christopher 'Natty Chris' Henry, the former Arnett Gardens (Concrete Jungle) badman who died violently during a fight with the police some years ago.
Once known as the man who 'cooled' Jungle because of his determination to frighten away gunmen in South St Andrew, Laing, 55, admitted to being shot at by 'Natty Chris' 19 different times, before other police personnel got the wanted man in an area called Top Jungle.
The former detective sergeant of police who served the force from 1976 to 1996, when then Commissioner Colonel Trevor MacMillan (now deceased) did not renew his contract, got his first taste of a gun's business end a mere five months after he graduated from the police academy.
The former Marley Hill Primary and St Catherine High School student was shot by a gunman along Matthews Lane in West Kingston while he was stationed at Denham Town.
He had been on foot patrol with two soldiers one evening, but changed his patrol routine when he found that the gunmen were timing the security forces' trek through the streets and would commit crimes once they had passed.
"I went up Matthews Lane and sent the two soldiers up Rose Lane and one of them would meet me back at Matthews Lane. I walked halfway up Matthews Lane, turned back and when I was coming down, walking against the wall, as I reached a point and started peeing around a wall, my eyes and a gunman's eyes made four... he was doing the same thing — peeping around the corner. So I couldn't do anything but grab him. He had a brown paper bag in his hand and I heard 'blum' and felt my hand got a bullet. I was so frightened. One soldier was behind me, but he was not seeing me. It was when he heard the gunshot he realised that something was happening. I had to pull my .38 gun and shoot the gunman. That marked the beginning of 'Laing'," the entertainment promoter said.
His reputation grew after that incident and his number — 3380 — was soon recited by wrongdoers.
"Every evening when they saw me coming they started running and shouting '3380 a come'," Laing said.
It was a time when at least one policeman at Denham Town was being killed by criminals each year.
In 1978, following that shooting, he became a detective, working through the Criminal Investigation Branch.
Respect for him as a fearsome opponent of criminal activity rose, as he worked out of volatile areas like West Kingston and the Admiral Town station in South St Andrew.
On Friday, February 9, 1991, he almost got shot in friendly fire, after his three-member patrol team went into Riverton City to support other law enforcers trying to capture notorious gangster, Nathaniel Natty Morgan.
"There was a helicopter overhead looking out for 'Natty' Morgan. Some people told us that one of Natty Morgan's gang members went into the water, so we were going up the river with an M16 weapon. Like bad luck, when we were approaching a big tree, we just saw the gunman emerge from the water with a straw in his mouth. As he came up we had a shoot-out and he was shot and killed.
"The water turned red right away, so the police in the helicopter started firing at the three of us. I had to suck onto the tree and pull the other policemen beside me to escape the shots.
"It was as if what happened the next day was destined to happen," Laing said as he recounted the incident that saw him spending over three months at the Kingston Public Hospital, when he fell victim to a colleague's bullets.
"It was a very, very dangerous situation the next day at Kencot, because I wasn't even supposed to be there. I worked right through into Saturday morning and while I was on the road patrolling, I heard police control calling for Matilda's Corner (police station) and I decided to assist due to the shortage of personnel.
"When I drove down to Parade Square, Superintendent OD Smith was there addressing the men. He asked if I was coming on the raid and I said yes. I had just left the West Kingston area and went to Half-Way-Tree and deemed as the man with the experience with raids, so Smith asked me to address the men.
"I told them about the things that should not happen on a raid, like preventing crossfiring, and when we went on the location, that's exactly what happened — I was shot in crossfire.
"A gunman ran from a policeman over the other side and came across where we were. I saw the man, went towards him and when I turned my back the policeman just came behind me and shoot. I watched a lot of cowboy shows and when I saw cowboys fly I didn't know that it could be real. I flew that day. The M16 lifted me up and pitched me at the edge of the gully which was about 15 feet deep. If I had fallen in it my neck would have been broken, so I held onto the bank. I was shot through my hip and when they took me to hospital I lost eight pints of blood and suffered from internal bleeding," he disclosed.
In a strange twist, two years after that shooting incident, Laing was again at the wrong end of a gun — the feared Desert Eagle. It was fired, incidentally, by a man who had cared for him while he was recuperating from his earlier wounds while at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH).
Devon Morrison, who had worked in the early 1990s as a senior porter at the KPH and with whom Laing developed a good relationship over the three-and-a-half months he had lain there, had turned dirty, becoming Jamaica's most wanted man in 1993.
He was charged with murder but escaped police custody when 12 of his armed cronies took him out of the KPH where he had gone for treatment.
"We had gone after him twice before, but he ran away. He was wanted for numerous murders, including an incident in Hannah Town when he burnt down a house with some children in it.
It was only after Morrison had been killed in a Bull Bay, St Andrew, shootout in which Laing was involved did the former cop find out that he was the same man who had helped look after him in hospital.
Morrison, cornered by police in a room, fired a shot at Laing's head that cut across his forehead, leaving a permanent scar. "He shot at me from point-black range. I heard 'budum' and felt my hand full of blood when I touched my forehead. Everybody thought I was dead when I reached hospital. They took me to Medical Associates Hospital, where I was visited by government ministers including KD Knight, Peter Phillips, and Arnold Bertram. When KD Knight saw me he said 'Jesus Christ, a God save you,'" Laing stated.
Morrison was cut down in that same room by the police party.
Laing tagged Natty Chris, who originated from Tel Aviv in Central Kingston, as the most dangerous criminal that he had ever faced.
Natty Chris, he said, shot at him 19 times and came very close once to claiming the policeman's scalp.
"At one time I was sure that Natty Chris would kill me. One Sunday morning I was patrolling through Jungle with four soldiers in an army vehicle and a police vehicle with four of us.
"When we reached on Penso Street, we saw two boys get up off the sidewalk. They got up with two 9mm and ran up to Park Lane, so I came out of the car, running after them up the pathway onto Seiveright Pathway. When I reached close to the intersection I saw a red light. Natty Chris was there around the corner and knew that I was coming. He barely pushed out his head and shot. The shots splintered a stone and got into my eyes, so I could barely see.
"I shot back and we eventually went back to the station. Later on that day, I saw about 15 girls outside the station, one of them saying 'a lie, a lie.' Natty Chris told them that he had killed me. I thought I was dead, too, and he would have killed me if he had waited until I reached up to the intersection. He feared me so much that he wouldn't give me the chance to come near him. One of his accomplices, Little Boogie, he told me when we arrested him that every time Natty Chris heard my name his belly rolled," Laing said.
As his reputation grew, Laing's presence allowed for more open activities to occur in the Arnett Gardens, Jones Town, Trench Town, Admiral Town and Wilton Gardens areas.
"When I went to Admiral Town station, every bus, taxi, bread van had to stop at Admiral Town. No vehicle drove through Jungle. "When you walked on Penn Street, grass was in the road. I went there and changed that. Vehicles started to go through Jones Town soon after I went there. For the first six months, I walked the entire Arnett Gardens and Jones Town. We didn't even have a vehicle at the station that time. I learned every crevice and corner. Every time the boys ran, you don't run them down, you just programme where they exit.
"So when I am walking I usually send someone to the exit. When they run they have guns, so once they run it will be shooting and they are not running from you unless they are wanted.