By Howard Campbell
ABOVE PHOTO: Jamaican alleged drug gang leader Christopher “Dudus” Coke is fitted with a helmet and a bullet-proof vest moments after his arrest at an undisclosed location, June 23, 2010. Coke, who eluded a bloody police offensive in his Tivoli Gardens slum stronghold last month, was arrested Tuesday June 22, 2010 by authorities outside Jamaica’s capital, according to high ranking police officials.
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Hunted by security forces across Jamaica, reputed drug baron Christopher “Dudus” Coke sought out a preacher’s advice and tried to turn himself in to U.S. marshals. He was caught by police at a highway checkpoint before he could get there.
Now, Jamaica’s top police officer is appealing for cool heads, urging Coke’s gangland supporters to allow the law to take its course following his arrest Tuesday. Last month, fighting between security forces and gunmen loyal to the man dubbed by U.S. authorities as one of the world’s most dangerous drug lords killed 76 people.
“I would like to appeal to the families, friends and sympathizers of Christopher Coke to remain calm,” Police Commissioner Owen Ellington said after the capture of Jamaica’s No. 1 fugitive, who eluded the bloody police offensive in his West Kingston slum stronghold.
Security forces “are taking every step possible to ensure his safety and well-being while he is in our custody,” Ellington said Tuesday night.
The 42-year-old Coke, who faces trial in New York on drug-trafficking and gunrunning charges, is said to fear suffering the same fate as his father, a gang leader who died in a prison fire in 1992 while awaiting extradition to the U.S. on drug charges.
Coke is expected to make his first court appearance within 48 hours, Information Minister Daryl Vaz said Wednesday. He said authorities have not confirmed a report that Coke does not want to fight extradition to the United States.
Ellington said Coke was caught at a police highway checkpoint, but added that other “circumstances of (Coke’s) arrest are being investigated.” He said police were acting on intelligence.
The Rev. Al Miller, an influential evangelical preacher who facilitated the surrender of Coke’s brother earlier this month, told The Associated Press that Coke was heading to surrender to authorities at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston when police stopped his convoy on a highway outside the capital.
“A contact was made on his behalf that he wanted to give himself in,” Miller said. “I therefore made arrangements with his lawyers because he wanted to go ahead with the extradition process, so we communicated with the U.S. Embassy because that’s where he would feel more comfortable.”
Miller said police took Coke to the nearby Spanish Town police headquarters, then flew him to Kingston.
Last month, a U.S. law enforcement official in New York, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP that a lawyer for Coke was negotiating with the Justice Department about his client’s possible safe removal to New York to face charges.
A phone listed for Coke’s lead attorney, Don Foote, went unanswered.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, “We look forward to working closely with the Jamaican authorities to bring Coke to justice to face charges pending against him in Manhattan federal court.”
Coke is wanted on charges that he trafficked cocaine and marijuana as well as weapons between this Caribbean island and the United States. Coke faces life in prison if convicted.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding, whose Jamaica Labor Party has long counted on the support of gunmen inside Coke’s stronghold in the Tivoli Gardens slum, opposed the U.S. extradition request for nine months before reversing himself under growing public pressure that threatened his political career. His stand also strained relations with the U.S.
Earlier this month, the main opposition party staged a no-confidence vote against Golding, which he survived after promising a sustained assault on the gangs that control poor politicized slums like Tivoli Gardens.
Jamaica’s political history is intertwined with slum gangs that the two main parties helped organize — and some say armed — in Kingston’s poor neighborhoods in the 1970s and ‘80s. The gangs controlled the streets and intimidated voters at election time. In recent years political violence has waned, and many of the killings in Kingston now are blamed on the drug and extortion trade.
Coke was born into Jamaica’s gangland. His father, known as Jim Brown, was the leader of the notorious Shower Posse, a cocaine-trafficking gang with members in Jamaica and the U.S. that began operating in the 1980s and was named for its members’ tendency to spray victims with bullets. The son took over from the father, U.S. authorities allege.
Hours before Coke’s arrest, Jamaica’s government extended a monthlong state of emergency to St. Catherine parish, where he was captured.
Golding has pledged to crush street gangs and replace their strong-armed rule with social programs for the poor. But the vow has a hollow ring in the gritty slums where “dons” like Coke have long provided services and imposed a disciplined law and order the government could never achieve. Slum dwellers have a deep distrust of the police, who are often seen as agents of the country’s elite.