MIAMI — It was 1988 and Lester Lloyd Coke's Shower Posse -- a notorious Jamaican drug gang -- was deep into gun and drug running. He was wanted in a South Florida courtroom to answer to murder and drug charges, but never made it to Miami to stand trial.
Now, two decades later, another Coke is accused of running the Shower Posse.
It's Lester's son, Christopher "Dudus'' Coke, the man wanted for extradition by the U.S. on drug and weapons charges and the object of a manhunt that has touched off a bloody battle between Jamaican authorities and his supporters in Kingston. The government announced last week that the violence had claimed 73 lives.
``All of this old stuff is coming up again,'' said Len Cartor, a former Miami-Dade police sergeant who worked in the department's warrants bureau and arrested the father, also known as Jim Brown, in the 1980s.
Though the father has been dead for 22 years, there's still a painting of him in Tivoli Gardens, where some of the fiercest fighting between government troops and gunmen loyal to Christopher Coke took place this week. It reads: ``Legend Jim Brown, don of dons.''
The violence now erupting in Jamaica has its roots in 1980s Miami, when Jamaicans and Colombians were the soldiers in the cocaine wars, say those who worked to put them behind bars.
Under Lester Coke, the Shower Posse -- so-named because it rained bullets down on rival gangs -- was centered in Jamaica but its tentacles reached far into the United States.
``It seemed like Miami was their secondary base of operations,'' said retired Miami-Dade police Sgt. Kevin Dougherty, who tracked Coke while working with MDPD's Warrants Bureau.
Coke was well-known to Jamaican law enforcement and was an activist in the Jamaica Labour Party long before he was indicted in 1988 along with dozens of others by a federal grand jury.
``It was a whole gun running and drug running operation going up and down the East Coast,'' said Andrew Reich, an assistant U.S. attorney who handled the case. ``Coke was one of the lead players.''
Then, as now, the gangs enjoyed backing from political parties on the island.
``Tivoli Gardens residents looked to Jim Brown for leadership,'' said David Rowe, who represented Vivian Blake, a Shower Posse leader indicted with Coke. ``He was a well-known and notorious enforcer and that reputation followed him. He was always hounded by federal authorities when he was here. Once they became aware of the activities of the Shower Posse, Jim Brown was always under some degree of scrutiny.''
Rowe, who never met father or son, said there appears to be a difference in leadership styles between the two men.
``The father was a little more abrasive, prominent individual,'' said the Jamaican-born Rowe, an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami and extradition expert. ``The son is a better educated person, and he's quiet.''
In the summer of 1985, a U.S. Marshals task force was out searching for dangerous fugitives in the Miami area. The Jamaican government had put out wanted fliers for Lester Coke, sought in the ``mass murder'' of 12 in May 1985 in Kingston. He was also sought in two other shootings.
That July 17, Doughtery got a tip that led authorities to a house in the Norland neighborhood in Northwest Miami--Dade County. A morning drive by the house revealed that a 5'10, 240-pound man believed to be Coke was inside.
The Special Response Team broke down the door and Coke, along with 10 others, was arrested on marijuana trafficking charges. Officers seized more than 100 pounds of marijuana.
``He was just a quiet guy,'' Doughtery said. ``He was in the company of some other really bad people. None of these `dons' were ever overtly aggressive to us.''
The charges against Coke were later dropped after another man said the marijuana was his.
A year or two later, Coke ran into some of the very officers who arrested him. Doughtery was eating in The Ham & Eggery on 167th Street when in walked Coke.
Coke was personable, he said, and even posed for Polaroid pictures with the officers.
In 1987, Coke was deported back to Jamaica despite his efforts to remain in the U.S. Jamaican authorities had accused him of the 12 murders but later dismissed the charges.
On Sept. 28, 1988, Coke was indicted by the U.S. government along with 33 others accused of being members of a violent gang, described in a Herald article as the ``largest and most powerful'' of 40 Jamaican gangs.
The indictment, which spanned 1984 to 1986, said the gang was directed in Miami by Vivian Blake, now deceased, and from Jamaica by Coke. It blamed the gang for two murder cases in November of 1984, including a quintuple homicide.
It marked the first time the federal RICO law was used in an indictment against Jamaican gangs.
``The leaders of the Shower Posse were very entrepreneurial,'' said Lee Stapleton, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Blake after he was extradited. ``They realized not only that Miami was a great staging area for their drug business, but it was a great market and a comfortable place for them to live.''
Coke died before he could return to the U.S. to face charges. He was awaiting extradition in 1992 when there was a fire in his cell block. Officials at the Kingston hospital where his body was taken said he suffered severe burns.
But the father's legacy lives on in the son -- and his alleged criminal enterprises.
``The `parent' Shower Posse limited most of their violence to drug disputes within the organization and among competitors,'' said Stapleton. ``The progeny Shower Posse that `Dudus' has has taken the violence further. . . . the second generation of the Shower Posse seems like the parent Shower Posse on steroids.''
Said Bruce Udolf, a former federal prosecutor who worked on the Coke case in the late 1980s: ``They were a very deadly group. We had thought that they had been effectively dismantled. . . . It's curious to see that there's another generation out there operating under that same name.''
Miami Herald Staff Writer Jim Wyss, reporting from Kingston, contributed to this report.