A federal judge blasted the ATF in a recently released ruling that described how the agency mistreated an Arizona ex-agent who had infiltrated the Hells Angels.
Jay Dobyns, sued the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2007 for failing to handle death threats against him following his undercover work against the notorious, legendary biker gang.
Quoting Shakespeare and comparing Dobyns' case to a Franz Kafka story, Judge Francis Allegra of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims blasted the ATF in his ruling but gave Dobyns only a fraction of the $1.7 million he'd sought.
The 54-page ruling, issued under seal on August 25 and re-issued publicly on Tuesday, details Dobyns' case against the government as he supports many of the former agent's arguments.
The case hinges around Dobyns' part in "Operation Black Biscuit" against the Hells Angels, which ran from 2001 to 2003. Though he received high praise for his undercover work, the case he'd helped to build against more than a dozen suspected gang members fell apart. Over the next few years, he began to receive a series of disturbing death threats and rumors of threats against him and his family. But the ATF didn't take appropriate measures and downplayed the risks.
Dobyns filed a claim against the ATF and in 2007 won a $373,000 award against the agencies for failing to take proper action to keep him safe. At around the same time, the ATF learned Dobyns was preparing to have a book published about his ATF experiences.
At a time when Dobyns wasn't allowed to walk into the ATF's Tucson headquarters because of the potential risk to other ATF agents, the ATF canceled Dobyns' fictional undercover credentials, which allowed him and his family to avoid detection. That summer, in August of 2008, a suspicious fire broke out on the porch of the Tucson home where Dobyns and his family was staying. Dobyns wasn't there at the time, but his wife and kids were. The fire caused about $30,000 in damage.
Officials at the ATF "continued to view Agent Dobyns as a suspect and did so for a number of years," despite the fact that Dobyns involvement had been ruled out, Judge Allegra wrote. The ATF didn't offer a reward for information in the arson fire, as the agency would have normally done.
The ATF's conduct caused a "gross breach" of the "covenant of good faith and fair dealing," the ruling states.
Dobyns was awarded damages for "mental distress, as well as pain and suffering" because of the breach.
A counterclaim by the ATF alleging Dobyns' book deal violated the 2006 agreement was tossed by the judge, who pointed out that ATF officials knew about the planned book when the agreement was signed and didn't seem to care about it
Since $173,000 of the $373,000 awarded previously to Dobyns was for mental distress, pain and suffering, the judge figure that the former agent should receive the same amount in his second go-around.
Dobyns is reportedly out of town on a speaking engagement in Canada, and could not be reached. He posted a few words about the court ruling on his blog:
"I will not seize upon this opportunity to gloat or celebrate. From my view there is nothing to rejoice in. This is a sad day for my beloved ATF, the Department of Justice and all who believe in and support America's law enforcement officers.
The title of the lawsuit alone - Dobyns v. USA - is humiliating for me. I never stood against the USA; only the corruption and abuse that infect parts of ATF and DOJ in leadership. I blew the whistle on that corruption. For that I was severely punished and left undefended."
Dobyns' website states that for 25 years the former agent:
"operated amongst vicious street and prison gangs, gun running groups, drug trafficking organizations, bomb makers and home invasion crews...
"Jay is perhaps best known for his landmark infiltration of the notorious Hells Angels biker gang. He was the first-ever law enforcement officer to successfully defeat the gang's multilayered security measures and become a full patched member (of the legendary Skull Valley charter), a fact that club's leadership vociferously denies to this day."
Dobyns' site also promotes his book, "No Angel," and the nonprofit Heartbeat For Africa group, which provides water systems and health care to orphans in Ghana " along with the message that Jesus Christ loves them and wants to improve their health and lives."
A former University of Arizona football player and graduate of Tucson's Sahuaro High School, Dobyns has said he was inspired to work undercover by the 1980s TV show "Miami Vice." He retired in January.
Allegra decided to lead his ruling with an appropriate quote from the play "Othello:"
"Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name, Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed."
He continues with the literary theme, invoking Kafka's novel "The Trial." In the book, Kafka:
"...depicts a totalitarian state in which the government suppressed freedom via a deluge of circuitous and irrational process. One of the techniques employed was the 'non-final acquittal.'
"Kafka describes these acquittals thusly: 'That is to say, when [the accused] is acquitted in this fashion the charge is lifted from [his] shoulders for the time being, but it continues to hover above [him] and can, as soon as an order comes from on high, be laid upon [him] again.'
"Experiences like these unfortunately bring to mind those that Agent Dobyns experienced in the years following the execution of the Settlement Agreement - a time that should have been one of healing and reconciliation, but that instead gave certain ATF officials and agents the opportunity to harm Agent Dobyns further."
UPDATE: Note - we removed the quote from Alfred Regnery, chairman of the Virginia-based Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, praising Dobyns. The group claimed it had funded Dobyns' legal representation, but when Dobyns' lawyers complained, the group confessed it ha paid only for a few transcripts and some of Dobyns' travel costs. Weak.
One last comment -- this one from the ATF: "We have received and are reviewing with the Department of Justice the Court's decision in Dobyns v. United States. We cannot, however, further comment on this case because portions of the litigation are still pending, including matters that may be appealed by the parties."
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