This page reported five weeks ago that the law suit filed by Jay Dobyns, once an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Forearms and Explosives, against his former employer had finally been resolved. Not so fast.
Last Friday David A. Harrington, Senior Trial Counsel with the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice paid $505 to file notice that he was appealing Judge Francis M. Allegra’s mostly symbolic ruling in favor of Dobyns. The appeal is one of the few documents in the dispute that is not sealed. About an hour later, Allegra filed a sealed order in the case.
Four things are immediately obvious about the twin filings. First the people of the United States have no right to know what has and is happening in this extraordinarily high profile secret case. Second, this six year long dispute between Dobyns and the ATF has become embarrassingly personal. Third, the nation that not so very long ago sent men to the moon, bragged it had never lost a war and had the most advanced infrastructure in the world has now become a sadistic state that is virtually incapable of accomplishing anything except punishing its own people. And finally, as many readers already know, when Uncle Sugar decides to get you he becomes the terminator. He just won’t stop ever. It doesn’t matter who you are.
Dobyns was a highly public and self-dramatizing hero of the war on outlaw motorcycle clubs. Largely with the cooperation and encouragement of senior ATF officials Dobyns was named cop of the year, made countless television and personal appearances, was the hero of two true-crime genre books by Kerrie Droban and Julian Sher, wrote a third book about his adventures with the help of children’s book author Nils Johnson-Shelton, got a movie deal with Tony Scott and was praised by influencers as diverse as Steve Gaghan and Joe “Donnie Brasco” Pistone.
It was all great publicity for the ATF which was upgrading its image from the fireworks police to the tip of the spear in America’s war on “gangs.” Dobyns embraced the cartoon the ATF wanted him to be. “I know I can get over on people,” Dobyns had bragged to Sher. Although the case for which he became famous was blatantly corrupt and mostly unsuccessful, Dobyns apparently did have some success getting over on the Hells Angels. Obviously he didn’t get over quite so well on his supervisors at the ATF.
Dobyns was lauded as a “true American hero” who “out of a sense of duty…closed his eyes and made a journey into hell” and “brought honor to the ATF.” Part of the myth that Dobyns both cultivated and had thrust upon him was that he was the target of various revenge plots by the Hells Angels. Droban reported, for example, that Dobyns and another ATF anti-biker warrior named Darrin Koslowski had been confronted by an enraged Angel named Bob McKay.
“‘You won’t get away with this punk bitch,’ the biker seethed, his voice a threatening whisper. ‘We’ll find you. We’ll get you. For the rest of your life you’ll be running from the devil.’” It is a great scene and with someone as veracious as Kozlowski to vouch for it and Droban, who has described herself as “the female Woodward and Bernstein” to report it how could it not be true?
Dobyns took the allegation and ran with it. He became a very public incarnation of the myth of Donnie Brasco – a tortured hero forced to live in two opposite worlds, who is damned to betray one of them and then in turn is betrayed by the one to which he has given his loyalty and his heart.
Dobyns was reassigned at least four times after his attempted infiltration of the Angels – to Washington, the California Central Coast and Los Angeles twice. Snitches hoping to gain official favor reported multiple plots to “get” Dobyns. Some of them, like an alleged plot to videotape the rape of his wife and daughter were lurid. More typical was a report that claimed a guy who knew a guy in the Hells Angels had learned the Angels were “going to start our campaign against Dobyns. We know where he is….”
Dobyns complained that he was being inadequately protected. In his version of events, many in the ATF resented Dobyns status as a prima donna. One supervisor told him he “had worn out his welcome with ATF” and added, “If I have my way you’ll spend the rest of your career in Headquarters or Guam. I am familiar with Anderson Air Force Base there. It is a postage stamp in the middle of nowhere. A perfect place for you to finish your career.”
In 2007, after the apparently bogus report of a “campaign against” him and the alleged threat by his supervisor to send him to Guam, Dobyns sued the Bureau. He settled the suit in September of that year for $173,000 but the ATF was late with its payment. Dobyns moved back to Tucson where, he claimed, he was in the greatest danger from the Angels.
In August 2008 somebody set a fire on Dobyns back porch. The severity of the incident has been described both as a small fire that caused about $30,000 damage and as an inferno that almost killed his family and destroyed his house. An ATF supervisor named Dobyns a suspect in the fire.
Dobyns filed suit against the ATF again in October 2008. This time he wanted more than $4 million: $1.6 million to compensate him for his “suffering;” $600 thousand to compensate his wife and children for their “suffering;” $200 thousand for his lawyer; and ten years pay at the rate of $185,000 per year. The ATF responded by countersuing Dobyns for the profits from his book titled No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey To The Inner Circle Of The Hells Angels.
Eventually Dobyns upped his demands to $17.2 million of which $10 million was to compensate him for “economic damages” and the rest as compensation for his trouble.
Virtually all of the case has been sealed since January 2012. The case was tried in secret in the summer of 2013 in two sessions in Tucson and Washington, DC. The ATF wanted the trial to be public. Dobyns argued that what he knew was just too dangerous to reveal to the world.
Dobyns Sort Of Wins
In a verdict last August 25 that was not made public until the following month Judge Allegra ruled the ATF still owed Dobyns the $173,000 he settled for in 2007 and not a penny more.
Allegra found that, “The disclosure of Agent Dobyns’ identity in court led to threats of death and violence directed at him and his family.”
His decision revealed that Dobyns had “reported consistent symptoms of anxiety, depression, and uncertainty relating to his conflict with ATF. At trial, (psychologist) Dr. (Todd) 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 described the ATF as Kafkaesque and compared Dobyns long employment dispute to Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. “There,” Allegra lectured, “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.”
Obviously, the Department of Justice considers Dobyns’ Pyrrhic victory “non-final.” Somebody with a closetful of nice suits wants to make an example out of Dobyns and it is hard to find anybody to root for.