Sun | Mar 26, 2023

Editorial | Lessons from Klansman trial

Published:Monday | March 13, 2023 | 12:09 AM

While they have reason for some celebration of last week’s guilty verdicts against 15 members of the ‘One Don’ faction of the notorious ‘Klansman’ gang, Jamaica’s police and prosecutors ought not to be carried away by the trial’s outcome.

On the upside, the case, more forcefully than in previous ones, reiterated the potential of Jamaica’s anti-gang law to take down the island’s criminal organisations. Indeed, 15 hard cases, when they are sentenced, are likely to be taken off the streets for a long time.

“It (the outcome) is a victory for the criminal justice system and law enforcement in Jamaica,” said Fitz Bailey, the deputy commission of police for crime and security.

That assertion is broadly true. Nonetheless, the authorities have much to unpack. For in many respects, the management of this case was not a stellar performance by investigators.

For not only did the trial reveal troubling allegations against police officers, in some instances the work of the constabulary’s investigators suggested incompetence, or worse. Notably, too, of the 33 alleged members of One Don/Klansman originally charged with membership of a criminal organisation and other crimes (including murder), 17, or approximately 52 per cent, were freed, either found not guilty, or because the cases against them were abandoned by the prosecution. Another accused, who was on bail, was shot dead during the trial.


Clearly, the conduct of the investigation warrants robust analysis to identify its shortcomings and to determine fixes, so that the failures are not repeated in future cases, of any kind.

The constabulary is also obliged to look for, and root out, moles who compromise its investigations and make it even more difficult to repair its reputation as a largely corrupt institution. This implies confronting the old bugbear of how to reform, at the membership level, an organisation that is notoriously resistant to change, beyond an infusion of technology.

Jamaica has had a specific anti-gang law, The Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act, since 2014, which was upgraded in 2021 to add offences and to make it easier to capture gang members under its umbrella, without an individual having to have actively participated in a specific crime.

In 2017, Jordan Markland, a 22-year-old member of the pre-split Klansman gang, became the first person tried under the old law. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

A little over two years ago Uchence Wilson, and 16 members of a gang that carried his name, were convicted for gang membership, including, in the case of Wilson and three others, for shooting. Wilson was jailed for 26 years.

In-between the Markland and Wilson cases there were full acquittals in two high-profile, gang-related trials, raising questions about the effectiveness of the legislation and investigators’ use of it. That, despite the guilty verdicts in the Uchence Wilson case, added gravity to the One Don/Klansman matter.

The One Don faction is a split-off from the old Klansman gang.


This trial, though, was significant for the fact that two former high-ranking members of the gang testified for the prosecution, including one who recorded mobile phone conversations with gang members. They provided the case’s most pivotal evidence. Thankfully!

One of those recordings captured a female member of the gang, who was also Bryan’s love interest, bragging about a policeman providing information about the constabulary’s investigation of the gang leader.

By now, years after that telephone conversation, that allegedly corrupt policeman has been identified, investigated, and charged with all crimes for which there is prima facie evidence.

Now that the One Don/Klansman case is concluded, the police should say what action it took against the officer who allegedly leaked information on the case to criminals, and how it is going after other corrupt members of the constabulary. Such transparency would be good for the constabulary.

There are also other matters from the trial that suggest a major breakdown in operating procedures, which should concentrate the minds of the leadership of the police.

There was, for example, the matter, ridiculed by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, the sitting judge, of the police attending the scene of a murder for which members of the gang were charged, yet no forensic documentation, including photographs, of the crime was brought to court. Part of the explanation, the hard drive of the computer on which the information was stored was damaged. The backup system also crashed.

There was also the matter of two of the accused being tried for crimes that took place while they were in lock-up. And, of a senior policeman who went into a prison and surreptitiously recorded the gang’s reputed second in command, but couldn’t adequately identify one of the recordings, causing the judge to hold that the information was not safe.

These were not all the hiccups. But they are sufficient to demonstrate why there is need for a serious review – and for the case to be a teachable moment.