Jay Dobyns lawsuit against his former employer, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is finally resolved.
The bad news is that Jay Dobyns is now officially a hero. A Federal District Judge named Francis M. Allegra seems to think so. The good news is that Dobyns isn’t much richer than he was before he sued the ATF almost six years ago. So now he is left with merely the income from his book, the movie deal, the endlessly recurring television appearances, the lucrative speaking engagements, the ceaseless adoration by Fox News, the hacienda in Tucson, the vacation home in Baja, the Christmases in Bruges and the $200,000 a year salary.
In an opinion originally filed under seal on August 25 and refiled today, Federal District Judge Francis M. Allegra found that Agent Jay was mistreated by the ATF and that he did not owe the Bureau anything.
Dobyns had originally sought $1.6 million for his and his family’s pain and suffering, $1.85 million for lost wages, and $200,000 for attorney’s fees. By the time the case went to trial last summer, Dobyns was demanding $7.2 million for pain, suffering and emotional distress and an additional $10 million for “economic damages.” Meanwhile, the ATF sued Dobyns for all income from his book No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey To The Inner Circle Of The Hells Angels. The trial was held in camera in the summer of 2013 in two sessions in Tucson and Washington, DC.
The ruling made public today offers the first public glimpse of the case in years. The government hadn’t objected to a public trial. The trial was made secret at Dobyns insistence.
Judge Allegra comprehended Dobyns harrowing undercover journey as follows:
“Agent Dobyns became an ATF agent in 1987. From early 2001 to July 2003, he participated in an investigation known as Operation Black Biscuit, which targeted members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (Hells Angels). For nearly two years, Agent Dobyns posed undercover as a member of the Tijuana-based Solo Angeles, as part of a task force that included other ATF agents. As part of this operation, Agent Dobyns and others staged the fake murder of a member of the rival Mongols Motorcycle Club. The staged murder impressed the Hells Angels leadership, causing the club to vote Agent Dobyns as a full ‘patched’ member.
“During this time, Agent Dobyns was stationed in one of ATF’s Tucson Field Offices and lived with his family in the Tucson area. In 2003, Operation Black Biscuit and parallel raids ended with the indictment of 36 people (16 as a direct result of the undercover operation), including 16 Hells Angels. The individuals were indicted on racketeering and murder charges. However, a number of setbacks involving the prosecution of these individuals eventually led to some of the defendants receiving reduced sentences and others having their charges dismissed.
“The disclosure of Agent Dobyns’ identity in court led to threats of death and violence directed at him and his family.”
The fact of the matter is that the staged murder alarmed the Skull Valley charter of the Angels more than it is impressed them. Dobyns was never voted into the club which is why the original title of his book was Almost An Angel. The investigation was mortifyingly corrupt and largely unsuccessful. And, the threats against Dobyns were mostly imaginary and exaggerated by him and a couple of biographers for dramatic effect.
Pain And Suffering
A large portion of last year’s secret trial seems to have been devoted to measuring just how mentally “distressed” Dobyns is.
“Between December 28, 2005, and January 8, 2011,” Allegra writes, “Agent Dobyns met thirty-eight times with Dr. Linaman, a psychologist licensed in Arizona. At least some of these sessions focused on problems experienced by Agent Dobyns with his family, but the record makes it impossible to determine which sessions focused primarily or exclusively on these family problems, as opposed to problems Agent Dobyns was experiencing with ATF. Between August 2008, the month of the arson at his home, and January 2011, Agent Dobyns reported consistent symptoms of anxiety, depression, and uncertainty relating to his conflict with ATF. At trial, Dr. Linaman further testified that Agent Dobyns’ primary care physician prescribed Lexapro and Trazodone, both drugs used to treat anxiety and depression. While it is unclear, from the record, that Agent Dobyns met the formal criteria for a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, there is little doubt that he experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
Allegra clearly thinks the ATF gave Dobyns a hard time. He wrote: “What happened here is more reminiscent of a Franz Kafka novel, The Trial. There, 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. In the court’s view, the actions of these ATF employees indisputably breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. That breach caused Agent Dobyns to suffer mental distress, as well as pain and suffering, which, in turn, entitles him to the damages awarded below. Hopefully, this will bring this Kafkaesque story to an end.”
“Based on the foregoing,” Allegra finally concludes his turgid, 54-page decision, “the court finds that defendant did not breach the Settlement Agreement, but did breach the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Based on the breach of the covenant, the court finds that plaintiff is entitled to damages in the amount of $173,000. The court further finds that defendant (the ATF) is not entitled to recover anything with respect to its counter claim.”