Though the boarding of out-of-county inmates in the Hall County Jail ceased years ago, Sgt. Paul House can still see some of its aftermath in the form of gang activity.
“When they got to the jail, (we) particularly in the gang task force and the (Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad) unit, were worried about what kind of impact this was going to have on our local community,” he said.
Though Hispanic gang activity has waned, House said there has been growth in local sets of two other groups: Gangster Disciples and Ghost Face Gangsters.
“I can’t think of a single jurisdiction that doesn’t have some sort of issue with Ghost Face,” House said.
Gangster Disciples, a predominantly African-American gang started in the 1960s, has larger sets in Atlanta, Toccoa and Athens. Gainesville has since become a place to converge, House said.
Ghost Face Gangsters, a predominantly white gang, started to form its Georgia faction in 1998, according to the Anti-Defamation League. It has since exploded through the prison system.
“They don’t have the leadership out on the street that they do in the jail. Even though all the business decisions and stuff are made inside the jail and it trickles out into the street, once they get outside of the prison system ... it seems to fall apart a little bit,” House said.
In September 2016, a federal grand jury in Savannah indicted 16 people regarding gang members inside and outside of the prison running a drug-trafficking organization. The individuals were from Ghost Face Gangsters, the Bloods, the Gangster Disciples and people with ties to the Mexican cartels, according to the Department of Justice.
House has taught classes throughout North Georgia to teach other agencies on what to look for when it comes to Ghost Face Gangsters.
“That for me is our biggest problem right now is Ghost Face, because it’s everywhere,” he said. “We’ve got it in our jail. That’s probably the predominant gang that we have in our jail right now.”
The jail staff keeps members of rival gangs separated, and Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks wrote in an email “they stay away from divulging too much information about the inmate classification process in general for security reasons.”
House said he doesn’t want residents to think this is the Wild Wild West, because it is far from it.
“It has been as quiet as I have seen it in a very long time, and I hope it stays that way,” he said.
Aggressive prosecution and identification have made the community safer, House said. He said he believes this is the most “control that we’ve had in a long time on our gang issues.”
Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said the gang statute, often referred to as the Georgia Street Gang and Terrorism Prevention Act, has served as an “important tool in proving the egregiousness of individual crimes and for enhancing punishment for those engaged in what are at their core criminal organizations.”
Georgia law states it is illegal for “any person to cause, encourage, solicit, recruit, or coerce another to become a member or associate of a criminal street gang, to participate in a criminal street gang, or to conduct or participate in criminal gang activity.” It carries a punishment of three to 10 years incarceration.
House said gangs like Gangster Disciples are not taking a hold here as quickly in a smaller county patrolled by a 12-person narcotics squad and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation nearby.
These groups are a departure from what House and former Gainesville Police investigator Joe Amerling dealt with during the 1990s and 2000s. Amerling said the Hispanic gangs were often more public then.
“You’d always see Spanish graffiti, but you’d never see any (Gangster Disciple) graffiti. They always kept it on the low-low,” he said.
Violence is also generally discouraged.
“They’re all getting their piece of the pie, but I think that they realize that if we’re out here trying to kill each other, it’s bad for business all the way around,” House said.