CLEVELAND — Lorain County Sheriff’s Sgt. Josh Croston once made a promise to convicted rapist Devante Gibbs that he would put him in handcuffs.
Croston kept his word Friday, bringing a shackled Gibbs back from California, where he fled last month while a jury was deliberating whether to convict him of rape, kidnapping, child endangering and felonious assault charges.
Gibbs, 24, had about a week of freedom before investigators tracked him to Long Beach, where he was arrested at a cousin’s home Feb. 18.
“I believe the statement was, ‘The truth will come out. And next time I see you, I’ll be able to put cuffs on you,’ ” Croston testified during Gibbs’ trial last month.
That conversation took place in 2013, while Croston was investigating injuries to the 2-year-old girl Gibbs was accused of raping before dipping her in hot bath water to cover up the sexual assault.
Croston sat through the trial and was in county Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery’s courtroom when the jury came back with guilty verdicts in the case Feb. 10.
The last time anyone had seen Gibbs, who was free on bond, was about 3 p.m. when he went outside the Lorain County Justice Center to smoke a cigarette. Jurors informed court staff around 4:15 p.m. that they had a verdict, but by then Gibbs was gone.
Rothgery, who had told Gibbs to remain in or around the Justice Center, waited about half an hour before announcing the jury verdict without Gibbs present over the objections of his attorney, Brian Darling.
A manhunt for Gibbs quickly got underway, and he was arrested by U.S. Marshals in California after a brief struggle. He didn’t contest extradition, and Croston and another deputy flew out to bring him back.
Gibbs smirked slightly as he was being placed in a sheriff’s car at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on Friday evening by Croston and Deputy Greg Hudson.
“I’m just glad he’s in custody,” Croston said. “I’m surprised he made it all the way to California, but it just shows that if you run, we’ll find you eventually and we’ll come and get you.”
Darling has said he’s hopeful that Rothgery won’t hold his client’s decision to flee against him when he is sentenced, which is expected to happen later this month.
Gibbs could get up to life in prison without parole, something county Prosecutor Dennis Will has said his office planned to ask for even before Gibbs took off because of the horrific nature of the allegations against him.
During the trial Assistant County Prosecutor Stephanie Malanowksi argued that Gibbs raped the girl while he was babysitting her Sept. 18, 2013, at his Sheffield Township apartment. She said he put her in the bath water to destroy DNA evidence he may have left.
Gibbs denied raping the girl when he took the stand. He said he drew himself a bath, but the water was too hot so he went outside to smoke. When he came back in, Gibbs said, the girl was in the tub splashing around, and he had to pull her out and push on her chest to get her to cough up water.
Gibbs admitted he never told the girl’s mother about what happened even though the girl was feeling unwell that night. It wasn’t until the girl’s condition further deteriorated the next day that he told her about the bathtub, and they took the girl to the hospital.
During a monthlong hospital stay the girl was treated for burns to her legs, internal injuries and a serious infection that could have killed her.
Gibbs also has denied wrongdoing in a separate case in which he is charged with tampering with evidence and possession of criminal tools for allegedly using a device called the “Whizzinator” in an attempt to beat a drug test while he was free on bond.
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