Blackman's top teenage marksman, bodyguard was 'A Mess'

TAREEK James, otherwise called “A Mess” or CJ, the alleged top marksman and bodyguard of accused leader of the one don faction of the St Catherine-based Klansman Gang Andre 'Blackman' Bryan, was just 18 years old when he was nabbed by cops after he engaged them in a daring shoot-out in traffic in Spanish Town in 2017.

According to one of three police witnesses who yesterday took the stand in the ongoing trial of the 33 accused members of the Klansman gang at the Home Circuit Court in downtown Kingston, James, at that time, “was said to be wanted for several crimes committed within the St Catherine North Police Division”.

The constable in outlining the November 2017 incident, which led to the arrest and charge of the accused, said he was on patrol with two other members of a team when acting on “certain information” from their shift commander, entered the Rivoli area of St Catherine where they saw a vehicle with men aboard that aroused their suspicions.

According to the officer, a chase subsequently ensued during which the accused, whom they later learned was James, alighted from the car at an interval and began firing while his cronies “sped off in a different direction”.

The cop who was in the lead during the chase, under questioning from defence attorneys representing James, insisted that the fire was not returned as “there were several vehicles along the roadway and persons” whose safety would have been jeopardised. He told the court that James was chased on foot by himself and a colleague into a yard where the accused once again attempted to fire the weapon, but was thwarted as it jammed.

James, upon being arrested, the court heard, told cops that he had not been in the car involved in the chase but had “seen the vehicle speeding towards him” while he was on his way back from St Jago where he had gone “to look for a girl”.

According to the cops, subsequent efforts to locate that girl were futile. However, the Nissan motor car being driven by the thugs in that escape bid rammed a civilian vehicle. Details from eyewitnesses and the cops involved in the incident, the court heard, led to the recovery of the car driven by the criminals.

The prosecution on Monday said the ballistics from that firearm, A SIG Sauer .45 pistol, which was successfully entered into evidence, matched data taken from another murder scene. Furthermore, they said the weapon is also the one spoken of by earlier witnesses in the trial as being stored “in a particular place”.

Attorney for James, Davorna Wilson, during cross-examination, suggested that the cops had fabricated their evidence that James had been found in possession of a loaded firearm.

“I put it to you that Mr James was not shown a firearm until he was brought to the police station…I put it to you that no firearm was taken from Mr James. Mr James was held for more than 30 minutes in the yard before being taken to the police station. He was taken to the police station and shown the gun,” Wilson insisted.

That supposition was however denied by all three officers.

In the meantime, Wilson challenged the evidence of the first cop who said James fired over three shots in the first round of shooting and about another three at the second interval, and that there were six live rounds remaining. According to the attorney, however, this was not possible as, based on ballistics, the pistol in question could only carry seven cartridges. According to Wilson, the claim that they also found six unexpended cartridges from that firearm was “impossible”.

James, in relation to that incident, is facing charges of illegal possession of firearm and ammunition as well as shooting with intent.

The trial which began on September 20 resumed this morning following a 14-day hiatus which affected the planned January 10 resumption.

The Crown in opening its case said the accused individuals — 32 males and one female — which comprise the “Blackman faction” of the gang under Bryan's leadership, had various roles in which they acted as “killers, drivers, lookout men or watchmen, gunsmiths and foot soldiers”.

The Crown is alleging that the various accused between 2015 and 2019 carried out a range of murders, conspiracies to murder and extortion and arson throughout the parish. It said the gang's headquarters at Jones Avenue in Spanish Town was used by gang members for planning their exploits and was also where briefing and debriefing in respect of crimes took place. The Court also heard that this was where transactions such as the sale and purchase of guns to carry out murders were done. Several members of the gang in their roles as “foot soldiers”, the Court was told, were responsible for ensuring that murders ordered were executed and that extortion monies were collected.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

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