Editor’s note: In honor of Behind the Badge OC’s one-year anniversary, we will be sharing the 30 most-read stories. This story originally published June 15.
Jeff Blair has a thing for remembering names and faces.
As a kid, he would study baseball cards and memorize statistics that accompanied his favorite players.
It’s a skill that has never left him and it served him well in his years as a member of Tustin’s first gang unit in the 1990s.
Just as he would commit RBIs and batting averages to memory, Blair studied a three-ring binder full of snapshots and information on Tustin’s most violent gang — the Deuce Trey Crips.
He remembered their faces and birthdates.
The man sitting next to Blair on a recent Tuesday at the Tustin Police Department was in that binder.
Blair remembers his name and birthdate.
The last time Blair saw the man was in 1998 — when he and Lt. Todd Bullock arrested him.
The former gang member now is married to a schoolteacher who started a tutoring business and an after-school program. The couple has four daughters and a son.
“I don’t know this guy,” said Blair, a lieutenant with Tustin PD. “This is not the Jimmy Rumsey I knew.”
The Jimmy Rumsey Blair knew had a thing for violence.
There wasn’t a line he wouldn’t cross.
After all these years, Rumsey wanted to meet Blair and Bullock — the Tustin gang unit members who never gave him a break — under different circumstances, he said.
“We had a relationship back then,” said Rumsey, 39. “Not a friendship, but an understanding.”
Parts of Rumsey’s story are what some might expect.
An angry kid without a father, he started acting out at age 11.
Rumsey would pick fights, ditch school and torment his teachers.
His single mother worked at a sandwich shop and a pizza parlor, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet.
She collected welfare to keep her son and daughter in their small apartment on Mitchell Avenue.
“My mom did the best she could, but I was just out of control,” he said.
Rumsey was kicked out of every school he ever attended, including an alternative school he was expelled from after throwing a book at a teacher’s head.
He eventually was forced to enroll in a day school for teens serving sentences at Juvenile Hall.
Members of the Deuce Trey Crips took notice of the kid who seemed fearless and loyal to no one.
“I fought most of the guys in the gang,” Rumsey said. “That’s why they started to accept me.”
The Deuce Trey Crips would give Rumsey something to be loyal to.
“I was so bad and so out of control I didn’t need to do anything to get in,” Rumsey said. “They just said: ‘You’re one of us.’
“I was all in.”
Tustin was a different place in the 1990s.
The family oriented community with a small-town feel didn’t seem a breeding ground for gang violence, but it was.
“I took a big interest in gangs because I had grown up in Tustin and I didn’t know anything about them,” Blair said. “Yet here they were and they were doing some serious stuff.”
The Tustin PD gang unit formed in 1996 when gang violence was on the rise — the Deuce Trey Crips, Los Wickeds and the Watergate Crips were among the dozen or so crews active in the city and surrounding areas.
The Deuce Trey Crips were Tustin born and bred, and they were the first gang Tustin PD set their sights on.
In the first month of the gang unit, officers responded to a gang-related robbery, shooting and vehicle pursuit, among other incidents.
Rumsey, the only white in an all-black gang, often was at the center of the gang violence but proving that was difficult, Blair said.
“Jimmy kept capering but we could never catch him,” he said. “That’s how he earned the name ‘Teflon Jimmy’ — nothing would stick.”
Rumsey, nicknamed Slim Jim by gang members, said he constantly was looking over his shoulder for Blair and Bullock.
He told them recently, “Man, we hated you guys, but we respected you.”
Said Blair: “They respected us because we worked hard. We worked within the rules we had to play by, but we were tenacious.”
Rumsey said there wasn’t a week that went by that he didn’t get questioned by Tustin PD.
That’s because not a week went by that Rumsey wasn’t reportedly involved in some kind of crime.
Deuce Trey Crips members every day would ride around in Rumsey’s ’67 Buick, looking for rivals to fight.
Sometimes altercations involved fists, sometimes weapons.
On Sunday mornings, Rumsey would sneak off to church with another gang member. They’d hide the weekly services from others in the group.
“Believe it or not, I was always a believer in God,” Rumsey said. “I’d be doing what I was doing and then going to church.
“We didn’t tell anyone because we didn’t want to get an image that we were weak.”
Rumsey’s faith was not enough to dissuade him from excessive violence.
He robbed and assaulted people, committed home invasion robberies and fired off shots at rival gang members.
He kidnapped and tortured people and even tried to kill a rival gang member but, for whatever reason, the gun didn’t work when he pulled the trigger.
“When I was in, I was all in,” he said. “There was nothing I wouldn’t do.”
FIFTH TIME’S A CHARM
Rumsey recalls being shot at five times —four times in Tustin and once in Irvine when a rival gang member fired at Rumsey’s car as he was driving down Deerfield Avenue near Culver Drive.
In June 1994, his friend took a bullet in the shoulder after an altercation with the Tustin Bloods, but Rumsey came out unscathed.
Tustin police arrested a suspect in that case, and he still is serving time in prison, Blair said.
Between 1995 and 1997, Rumsey also survived a drive-by shooting outside his apartment complex and two incidents in which he said rival gangs fired upon his vehicle.
Rumsey’s enemies finally caught up with him one night in the heart of his gang’s “turf” in Tustin.
The night before he got shot — Oct. 3, 1997 — Deuce Trey Crips members exchanged words with another Tustin gang, near the Santa Ana border, outside Rumsey’s home.
With his two young children sleeping inside, Rumsey convinced his friends to take care of business the next day.
On Oct. 4, 1997, the gang was on its way to seek out the rivals, but was intercepted by two carloads of Santa Ana-based gang members, from a rival Crips gang.
“The last thing I remember is the gun coming out, then I woke up in the hospital,” Rumsey said.
Rumsey, 21 at the time, had been shot in the face.
The bullet entered through his chin, shattered his jawbone and stopped just before hitting his spine.
That bullet still sits in Rumsey’s body today — a reminder of the life that seems a lifetime ago.
As he recovered in a hospital bed, bolts in his head and his jaw wired shut, Rumsey plotted and planned his revenge.
“I wanted to get some justice,” he said. “I was in that lifestyle; that’s just what I knew how to do.”
During his more than month-long stay at the hospital, Rumsey also did a lot of praying.
His girlfriend at the time, now his wife, pleaded for him to leave the gang and move to Corona.
“I had a lot of emotions going on and I started to think about my family,” he said. “I didn’t want to end up in jail the rest of my life. I didn’t want to be without my kids.”
But when he finally was discharged, the desire for revenge prevailed over a want to rehabilitate.
Several months after being shot in the face, Rumsey again was spending time with the Deuce Trey Crips.
On an April evening in 1998, he and his friends filled up on margaritas at a Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire and left without paying.
Rumsey, intoxicated in the backseat, demanded the driver take him and his friends to Tustin.
After mumbling some comment about hating a song on the radio, Rumsey took out his .25 and shot a hole through the stereo.
Later that night, Blair and Bullock saw the vehicle speeding on El Camino Real, near Tustin East Drive.
“We didn’t even know who was in the car,” Blair said. “We just pulled them over for speeding.”
They spotted a bullet hole in the dash and a drunken Rumsey in the back.
The passenger opened the glove box to reveal Rumsey’s firearm.
Teflon Jimmy was no more.
Tustin PD arrested Rumsey and he was convicted for being a member of a criminal street gang in possession of a firearm.
He was sentenced to 120 days in Orange County Men’s Central Jail.
That was the last time Blair and Bullock saw or heard from Rumsey.
On March 10, Blair received an email with an eye-catching subject line: “Tustin Gang Survivor.”
A childhood friend of Rumsey’s sent him the Behind the Badge OC story about Tustin’s first gang unit, and it prompted Rumsey to reach out.
“I was shocked when the email came through,” Blair said.
There was a photo of Teflon Jimmy, a proud father at his daughter’s high school graduation. The family flashed “the shaka” because his daughter was off to the University of Hawaii with a $60,000 scholarship.
He wrote Blair about his son making honor roll, how his two daughters graduated high school with honors and his eldest daughter’s plans to become an accountant.
Rumsey wrote he wanted to meet Blair and Bullock and talk about how he could give back to the community he took so much from.
Rumsey wrote: “Tustin will always have a special place in my heart. Go figure.”
The reunion between the three was easy and light-hearted. Rumsey explained what had happened since leaving Tustin in 1998.
Although his violent activity stopped, it took Rumsey several years to fully cut ties with members of the Deuce Trey Crips.
“I was always loyal to the wrong people,” he said. “Once I realized that, I put my family first. I started to focus on what’s really important in my life.”
Several years after leaving the gang, Rumsey was struck by a drunken driver and suffered major back injuries that required surgery, rendering him unable to work.
He collects disability and helps his wife run a tutoring business in Corona.
Rumsey has been married 21 years.
“I like to think I have righted a lot of my wrongs through my kids,” he said. “I stay involved. I teach them right from wrong, and how to be respectful and productive.”
These are lessons it took Rumsey more than 20 years to learn on his own.
“I had nobody teaching me anything positive,” he said. “Everything I learned, I learned on the streets. We hurt a lot of people. It was hell.”
As he talked about his life today — filled with football games, movie nights and weekly family dinners — Blair and Bullock smiled.
“Good for you, man,” Blair said.
Rumsey said he no longer is angry. He’s not angry at his absent father or the person who nearly ended his life.
“I’m not mad at the guy who shot me anymore,” he said. “I pray for him and hope he got his life together the way I have gotten my life together.
“Had that not happened to me that night, I may still be in and out of prison today.”
Rumsey said he still has regrets from his more than decade-long relationship with the Deuce Trey Crips — he watched his best friend get killed and committed crime nearly daily, but redemption will one day come.
He will find it in the way he raises his kids to be good, caring adults.
And he will find it when he gives back to his community, he said.
Rumsey is working with Tustin PD to find groups in Orange County he can speak to in an effort to deter other teens from choosing a destructive life path.
“I sleep much better knowing that I’m helping people and not hurting people,” he said. “I guess God had other plans for me.
“I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.”