St. Thomas Native, Accused Of Being An Atlanta Cop And Street Gang Member, To Be Sentenced In Federal Court
ATLANTA — A St. Thomas native will be sentenced by a federal judge today after his conviction on a racketeering charge in a case where authorities said the Georgia cop turned his true loyalties over to a vicious street gang.
Vancito Gumbs, 28, of Charlotte Amalie, who moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia when he was 15, is facing 20 years in prison. Gumbs is a U.S. Army veteran who served on combat duty in the Middle East.
But questions about Gumbs’ true character have dogged him from his military days up to and including his service as a DeKalb County police officer — where he once broke a civilian’s jaw while he was on duty — and where he once was spotted snorting cocaine in his squad car.
Most troubling of all — was one text message that federal authorities intercepted — for which no one can explain to the court’s complete satisfaction: “I’m a gd hitman.”
When he sent it in 2015, Gumbs, then a young Atlanta-area police officer, didn’t know he was suspected of moonlighting as a Gangster Disciples gang member. Federal investigators knew “gd” is a widely-used abbreviation for the Gangster Disciples street gang.
He didn’t know FBI agents heard him on a wiretap talking to a well-known local “enforcer” for the gang. He didn’t know he had been recorded saying things that, at best, were very suspicious and inappropriate, and at worst, evidence that he was working against his fellow officers to build up the illegal criminal enterprise.
As Gumbs — who was convicted in 2019 of racketeering in a blockbuster case — faces sentencing today in U.S. District Court, his lawyers and family hope the court considers the native St. Thomian as what they say he was: a troubled young U.S. Army veteran who made mistakes and at times ran his mouth too much, trying to sound tougher than he was. They stress this part: While some of his co-defendants were accused of involvement in multiple murders, Gumbs has never been accused of taking part in any homicide, in spite of his words. But what kind of man Gumbs is, and what his fate should be, depends greatly upon whom you ask.
The meaning of that terrible text message also depends on whom you ask.
Federal authorities say the text is proof that Gumbs worked with the Gangster Disciples and knew exactly what the organization stood for, and that it went against everything he should stand for as a cop.
Gumbs’ attorneys and family say the text doesn’t mean what the government says it does. But the words may contain a tip about what went wrong with Gumbs in the first place.
Deployment ‘scarred him’
When Gumbs was arrested in 2016, his mom, Janelle Gumbs, was in St. Thomas, taking care of her ailing 88-year-old mother. By the time she reached her Atlanta home, she saw that TV news trucks and reporters with questions had surrounded her home. Janelle Gumbs didn’t know exactly what her son was accused of. Whatever it was, she wished everyone knew him like she did.
Gumbs’ mother wanted her son to have a better opportunity to succeed than what the U.S. Virgin Islands could offer, so she picked up her family and moved to Georgia.
Five years later, while attending Savannah State University, Gumbs called his mom to say he and his girlfriend were having a baby.
Stunned, Janelle Gumbs blessed him up and hung up the phone. A baby in college wasn’t part of the plan. For days, she’d bless him up and hang up, bless him up and hang up. But he was her son; the baby would be her grandchild. She forgave him and braced herself as he joined the U.S. Army to provide for the baby.
At 20 he deployed to the Middle East, where he worked getting supplies to troops on the front lines. He got in firefights, did things he didn’t want to do, things that would haunt him when he came home, his mom said.
One day his mother saw him have one of many nervous fits.
“I came home to my son breaking things in the house, with a knife to his throat, saying he was going to be punished,” Janelle Gumbs said. “Whatever happened over there scarred him.”
Violent or not?
After the Army, Gumbs joined the DeKalb County Police Department in 2013. It ended badly.
At some point while relatively new on the force, Gumbs cultivated a relationship with Kevin Clayton, a Gangster Disciple who the feds say was the chief local enforcer.
Clayton lived in South DeKalb, where Gumbs patrolled, and they’d see each other and talk.
Gumbs’ attorney Roger Wilson acknowledges that Gumbs gave broad information to Clayton about what type of crime police were investigating one day in October 2015. Wilson also doesn’t dispute that Gumbs told Clayton to avoid going to a sports bar that officers were about to raid.
At most, that’s obstruction of justice, Wilson wrote in a court filing. “There was no evidence in this case linking Mr. Gumbs with any murder, or attempted murder or other violence even.”
Gumbs does face a violence accusation in another case. In 2019, he was indicted in DeKalb County for allegedly assaulting a man outside an apartment complex in 2015 while on duty. The victim told police that Gumbs punched him because the officer mistakenly thought he was a rival gang member.
“At the time he assaulted my client, he was telling my client he was a Gangster Disciple,” said attorney Wayne Kendall, who sued DeKalb officials on behalf of the victim and settled for $190,000 from the county. “All I know is he assaulted my client, broke his jaw and caused about $77,000 in medical bills — all while he’s handcuffed.”
Gumbs’ attorney in the DeKalb case, Daryl Queen, disagreed with that description of the incident: “There was a minor altercation which occurred while the subject was actively resisting arrest.”
What about that text message? “I’m a gd hitman,” the cop had texted a woman.
Gumbs told his attorney he meant “goddamn” when he said “gd” and was talking about what he’d done in the Middle East. Wilson assumed his client was trying to impress the woman. “He was doing a James Dean pose,” Wilson said.
But when Janelle Gumbs heard what the text said, she recalled something her son had said to her: he felt, as a soldier, he’d been reduced to “a hit man for the government.” He wasn’t bragging, he was lamenting.
Before his arrest, he wasn’t sleeping or eating and was drinking to kill the pain, the mother said, adding he resisted suggestions to get help with his mental turmoil. (The same month he tipped off the gang enforcer, a passerby reported seeing Gumbs snorting cocaine in his patrol car, and he resigned.)
Finally, he set up an appointment with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Janelle Gumbs said. He was arrested the day before the appointment was to take place.
Day of reckoning
Gumbs, who has been locked up since his 2016 arrest, faces sentencing Monday morning.
The U.S. attorney’s office has asked the court to give him 20 years.
“The defendant committed acts that were abhorrent and deceitful, while demonstrating brazen disregard for his sworn duty to the public,” prosecutors wrote to the court. “His abuse of power compromised investigations and endangered the lives of other officers, agents and civilians.”
Gumbs’ attorneys asked for a three-year sentence.
Julien Adams, a Gumbs attorney and a former federal prosecutor, said it wouldn’t make sense to give Gumbs decades in prison.
“I told him, ‘Look, you made some bad decisions because of who you were involved with,’” Adams, who is also Gumbs’ uncle, said. “They convicted other people of those murders.”
As the hearing approaches, Gumbs’ mother is listening to Gumbs’ three kids ask when their dad is coming home.
“And I don’t have an answer,” Janelle said. “My son does not deserve this. He does not deserve this.”