Ex-DeKalb police officer sentenced to prison in Gangster Disciples case

Vancito Gumbs

Vancito Gumbs

After four years in federal custody, Vancito Gumbs fidgeted in his seat, ankles shackled. He craned his neck to glance out the window in the courtroom door as friends and family began to gather. He lifted an arm and gave a quick assessment of his chances: a thumbs down.

Gumbs, 28, a former DeKalb County police officer convicted in a massive gang racketeering case, was correct. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. sentenced Gumbs to 15 years in federal prison for his role in the Gangster Disciples' enterprise.

“Vancito Gumbs moonlighted as a member of the Gangster Disciples while serving as a DeKalb County police officer,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “His brazen disregard for his sworn duty as a police officer, betrayal of the public’s trust and disregard for human life warrants the significant sentence he received in this case.”

The prosecution argued that Gumbs disgraced this uniform and abused his power to help a gang that destroyed and ended lives. Jurors at trial heard evidence indicating gang members shot 24 people shot, 12 of whom died. One victim was shot and left to die in front of a 4-year-old, prosecutors said. Among the survivors was a man who, feds said, got shot more than a dozen times because he didn’t want to help with a gang-sponsored community clean-up event.

Gumbs' attorney argued repeatedly that his client was at most a wannabe who knew little about the gang’s activities and had no involvement in any of the killings and shootings. But time and again the state argued that Gumbs shouldn’t have even been associating with the gang, as he was caught doing on a wiretap.

The sentence marked the end of a long fall for Gumbs, who moved to Stone Mountain as a teenager from the U.S. Virgin Islands and went on to fight against Taliban forces in the Middle East for the U.S. Army.

After deployment, he took a job at the DeKalb County Police Department. He patrolled South DeKalb, which was apparently where he met Kevin Clayton, a Gangster Disciples “enforcer.” On a wiretap, the FBI heard Gumbs give broad information to Clayton about what type of crime police were investigating one day in October 2015. Another time, agents heard Gumbs tell Clayton to avoid going to a sports bar that officers were raiding.

The most alarming bit of evidence against Gumbs was a text message he sent to the mother of one of his children: “I’m a gd hitman.”

Authorities said this meant he was a Gangster Disciples hitman, though prosecutors acknowledged in court that there was no evidence that he took part in any homicide.

His mother, Janelle Gumbs, testified Monday, telling the court that she believes her son was talking about being a “hitman” for the U.S. government in the Army. He’d used the same phrase to mournfully describe his deployment to her, she said, suggesting that “gd” must’ve meant referred to a curse, not “Gangster Disciples."

The war — the things he saw and did as a young man barely out of high school — damaged him, the mother said.

“When my son came back, he was not the son I dropped off,” Janelle Gumbs said on the witness stand. “I’m sitting here in a courtroom with folks who don’t know us, who weren’t there with us, who couldn’t hear him in his sleep, screaming.”

Vancito Gumbs with son Nolan in a family photo.

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The defense argued for a sentence of three years, asking the court not to sentence Gumbs for racketeering involving murder. Wilson’s argument was that Gumbs took no part in any murder, while other defendants in the sprawling case were convicted of direct roles in murders.

It would be an “expansion of the law” to rule that anyone involved in a criminal enterprise that was tied to murders should be responsible for the murders, he argued.

But the jury found Gumbs guilty of racketeering involving murder. Prosecutor Erin N. Spritzer said Gumbs knew full well that the Gangster Disciples killed people.

“Vancito Gumbs did not need to be involved in any murder,” she said. “The defendant is essentially asking the court to overturn the jury’s verdict."