By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Soldier, she claimed, had beaten her up, robbed her and raped her in the back alley at Exodus.
"I was like, 'He gave this to me last night,'" Thomas says. "She said it happened last night."
Thomas questioned John about it. His denial didn't exactly put her at ease. "He said he didn't rape her, but he robbed her and was gonna beat out her 'blood clot' [tampon] because she got in his business."
Like most of the Jamaicans who made it to Dallas, Randy Shawn Brown was brought up in Kingston, a city of scrap-metal slums and glass houses on hills, where the trench between rich and the many more poor is exceptionally deep. Like Soldier, Brown was raised in straitened circumstances in a hardworking family. His father had a decent job; he worked as a police sergeant in Alman Town. But when the family immigrated to the United States when Randy was 10, there wasn't nearly enough money to amply feed and clothe five children to New York City standards. Randy couldn't keep up with the day's fashion trends, and the American kids teased him viciously. He didn't understand his parents' struggle, that they were doing the best they could, and the teasing "had an enormous effect on me," Brown says today. "I wanted to dress nice and have money in my pocket and be accepted."
In the shadows around his home, though, he observed a means of escape: the fast money kids were making in the crack cocaine game.
That's how Brown ended up in Dallas in late 1988; he was 18. At one time, Brown hints from the visiting room at a Texas prison, he was affiliated with a certain notorious posse, one of the most lucrative Jamaican drug operations in the United States. But contrary to the stereotype, not all the Jamaican boys owned BMWs or closets full of silk leisure suits and BK shoes. Theirs was a boom and bust cycle, with many busts and bouts in Lew Sterrett Justice Center--or Parkland, recovering from gunshot wounds--that left them dead broke. Brown, a talented lyricist, would sometimes DJ Jamaican-style at Club Exodus under his stage name Trouble Ranking, but after getting seriously injured in a car wreck, he found himself short of cash most of the time. One day he was hanging out in South Dallas at an apartment on Gould Street, one of the roughest areas of town, then and now.
The place belonged to a Dallas teenager named Tree Tree and her crack-addicted mother. Tree Tree tells what happened there that day: A bunch of the West Indian boys were hanging out, smoking weed, along with Tree Tree and a South Dallas gangster nicknamed "Money Mike." At some point, Soldier drove up. All of the boys seemed to know him. He was dressed fine, Tree Tree recalls, and walked to the vacant lot across the street to fire off some rounds from his submachine gun, which Brown identifies as an Uzi. Most of the guys were broke, Brown says. And, contrary to all the wild stories, Soldier was usually short on cash, too, Toni Thomas says. He was always borrowing $20 here, $30 there. If he was pulling in big money from dope dealing, Thomas says she never saw any proof, and she took care of all the bills.
The Jamaican boys seemed in awe of Soldier, who was older than most of them. And he came with a scheme. Kitty-corner from the apartment was a brand-new trap controlled by the Allen family, a nationwide Jamaican crime syndicate. Soldier was certain there were heaps of cash there, plus weapons and dope. He persuaded Money Mike, then the others, that they could take it.
Sometime after midnight on May 31, 1990, Tree Tree recalls as many as a dozen armed men, Soldier included, slipping over to Cleveland Street. "It wasn't a planned thing. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing," Brown says. "The first thing that came to mind was to rob that place. As I told the police, our mission was to rob and rob only. We thought we were going to get thousands and thousands of dollars."
The witnesses don't agree on how many of the boys made it into the second-story trap at 2727 Cleveland St.; the numbers range from three to seven. Brown admits he was there. So was Soldier, he says, and two other men--Money Mike, whose real name was Michael Charles Edwards, and Mark "Uzi" Larmond, a 19-year-old Jamaican who once ran a crack house on nearby Holmes Street.
There is little dispute about the outcome. One man--Brown says it was Soldier, and Edwards concurs in a statement to police--ordered the five teenagers inside the trap to get down on the floor. Soldier, Brown says, rooted around the apartment for dope, weapons and cash. Meanwhile, the gunmen forced the kids, two girls and three boys from South Dallas, to strip naked and crouch together in a dirty bathtub. Someone turned on the water. One of the kids, a 19-year-old named Kenneth Covington, started chattering nervously. He mentioned the name "Babyface."
"Kenneth, you remember that name you used?" one of the robbers said. "Don't ever use it again."