With cops closing in, Haitian music promoter takes own life

A popular figure in the Haitian music industry, on the run from detectives who wanted to talk to him about the recent murder of his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend, shot himself to death in a Northeast Miami-Dade apartment Tuesday night, as police closed in on the building

New York City police think Joseph Kernizan, a music promoter, gunned down Tracy Bennett and her lover, veteran Jamaican dancehall artist Captain Barkey in the parking lot of a Bronx motel Saturday.

The U.S. Marshals’ fugitive taskforce followed Kernizan’s trail from New York to a two-story apartment building on Northwest 157th Street and Second Avenue, near the Golden Glades interchange, said Barry Golden, a spokesman with the Marshals Service. Police feared he was preparing to flee to his native Haiti.

Golden said marshals and police arrived at the quadruplex at 10:14 p.m. Tuesday.

"We surrounded that location from all sides. We pulled in one of our vehicles, we had lights and a P.A. and we asked for residents of the apartments to step outside," he said.

At one point, investigators saw Kernizan stick his head out of a ground-floor apartment window, Golden said. He then attempted to run out a back door, but when he saw police officers he shut the door and locked it, Golden said.

Minutes later, a man who had been inside the apartment with Kernizan came out, and police heard three shots. Officers shattered a back window to enter the one-bedroom apartment.

"When we went in, he was dead" on the floor from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Golden said. Police say they found three handguns and two loaded AK-47 assault rifles at the scene.

Kernizan, 42, also known as “Country,” was the New York promoter of NuLook, a well-known and popular konpa band on the Haitian music scene. Police began the hunt for him after he was pointed out by witnesses as the man behind Saturday’s killing of Bennett, 38, and Barkey, 50. Kernizan is the father of two of Bennett’s three children, and she was often seen at his shows, friends of the couple say.

Born Joslyn Hamilton, Barkey is best known for the mid-‘90s dancehall reggae hits Go Go Wine and Bun Fi Bun. Followers of dancehall music say Barkey’s 2010 single She Nah Lef Joe, in which Barkey sang in Jamaican patois that his life was over because of cheating, was about the love triangle involving himself, Bennett and Kernizan. Barkey had a wife in Milwaukee, according to news reports.

Golden said Bennett had a restraining order against Kernizan for stalking her.

On Wednesday, residents in the building where Kernizan took his life said they were surprised at the police activity in an otherwise quiet neighborhood.

Niyah Garnett said she heard a gunshot while standing outside the police perimeter Tuesday night. She said police did not allow residents into the complex until after 3 a.m.

“The guy who lived in the apartment was quiet, he’d come and go. I don’t know his friend who died,” she said.

The news of Kernizan’s death has shaken Haitian music fans, who described him as a nice guy and loving father. He had recently opened a club in the New York area. NuLook, which he promoted, has a huge following in South Florida, where for the past several years they were the featured band for the annual gala at Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church, basically volunteering their talents.

"He was a good asset to the Haitian music market in New York," said Rodney Noel, owner of Moca Cafe and Lounge in North Miami and the promoter of South Florida’s largest Haitian music festival, Miami Compas Fest. "He used to have at least five parties a year that drew between 1,500 and 2,000 people."

Noel said while the two weren’t close friends, they knew one another and spoke occasionally.

"We have a small market, everybody knows everybody," said Noel, who added, "It is really sad. My heart goes out to all of the families involved, especially his kids. They are the real victims here, the 8- and 10-year-old."

Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.