Jay Dobyns was a star receiver at the University of Arizona who went on to a very productive career with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Exposives. He took on one of the most challenging and dangerous assignments in law enforcement—going undercover to infiltrate the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.
His organization and the U.S. Department of Justice had high expectations of Dobyns. And he expected in return a reasonable degree of protection from harm, for both himself and his family, once his assignment was completed.
After a riot pitting Hells Angels and the rival Mongols inside a Harrah’s casino in Laughlin, Nevada, resulting in two Angels and a Mongol being killed and scores injured, the ATF set its sights on infiltrating the Angels as a suspected racketeering organization.
Dobyns was the point man for the mission. Posing as a gun-runner for an organized crime figure, he built his bona fides over many months, once staging the mock execution of a rival Mongol to impress the Angels.
But when the prosecution came apart and convictions became fewer, Dobyns began to feel like an outsider with his own law enforcement agency. When threats to him and his family began coming in, and his family had to flee his own home during an arson fire, not only did ATF fail to take effective action to assess the threats and ensure Dobyns' safety, they cast suspicion on him for the arson.
Pushed to the limit, Jay filed a lawsuit against his own agency in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, alleging the agency failed to approach minimal standards of law enforcement safety practices by failing to properly assess, respond to, investigate, or process or document the threats or occurrences, and refused to adequately protect or defend the Dobyns family.
LELDF backed our mission statement and the Dobyns family in supporting the suit. The case went to trial in early 2014, with closing arguments in Tucson, Arizona in mid-February. The ATF won’t be helped by the DOJ Inspector General’s own findings on the allegations, which found multiple specific cases where the ATF acted wrongfully against its own employee.
UPDATE — August 2015: One year ago, the judge in Dobyns' case issued a decision awarding him monetary damages for emotional distress and breach of contract at the hands of the ATF and DOJ
In November he voided his judgment and moved to further proceedings believing the ATF and DOJ attorneys had committed a fraud on the court during the trial. A now retired Washington D.C. judge conducted a review of the trial judge’s allegations and found:
- DOJ attorney Valerie Bacon asked top ATF officials not to reopen a failed investigation into an arson attack at Dobyns’ house in Tucson because it could interfere with the government’s defense against Dobyns’ lawsuit.
- An ATF Internal Affairs agent who investigated the agency’s flawed arson investigation was threatened by an ATF official mid-trial, ostensibly as a warning not to testify on Dobyns’ behalf.
- After the Internal Affairs agent reported the threat to ATF and DOJ higher-ups, they withheld the information from the federal judge who was hearing the case.
Despite those irregularities, the reviewing judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola, found that the trial results were unaffected. His recommendations now go to U.S. Court of Federal Claims Chief Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith, who can accept or reject the investigator’s recommendation, or restart the investigation into possible fraud and misconduct by the ATF and DOJ officials.