Still Catching Hell: Undercover No More, Jay Dobyns Revs Up for a New Fight
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Former All-American Supercop Jay Dobyns, the federal agent who went undercover to infiltrate the Hells Angels, leaves his Georgetown hotel on a recent hot afternoon. Shoves his pistol into his waistband at the small of his back, lights a Marlboro and crosses M Street NW.
"I'm the good guy," he says, as if reminding you to keep your eye on the ball.
He's still employed by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in an Arizona office job, but it's clear the agency has had enough of his Serpico bit, the whole Donnie Brasco thing. Dobyns is the best-selling author of this year's "No Angel," a taut, profane tome about how he worked his way into the Arizona chapter of the world's most notorious motorcycle gang, and sure, the movie rights have already sold.
But more important, he's filed two suits against the ATF, charging the agency with failing to protect him from years of death threats from bad men on big bikes.
The U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General issued a report last year that said he was right -- that the agency had failed to move him and his family with their identities protected, that the ATF's response to one death threat was "inadequate, incomplete and needlessly delayed," that they had reached dismissive conclusions about the threats "without adequate investigation," and so on. The report recommended the ATF "amend its written procedures" to better protect all agents.
He's moved his family more than 10 times in four years, sometimes at government expense, sometimes at his own. He's changed his names on official records. And still, an unknown arsonist found and torched his Tucson house one night last August, while he was traveling, sending his wife and two teenage children sprinting into the darkness. An Angel in prison was caught writing a letter to another gang member, saying they should arrange for the gang rape of Dobyns's wife, Gweneth.
"Doesn't sound like a fun evening, does it?" she says, by phone. They've been married 20 years. She sounds great, like Sondra Locke in those Clint Eastwood flicks from the 1970s, a nice girl with good hair who's handy with a pump-action shotgun.
Here comes her husband now, stepping into an Italian restaurant:
Shaved head, goatee, shades, jeans, embroidered white silk shirt (untucked), flip-flops, baseball cap, biceps, blue eyes, 47. About 6-1, 220, former honorable-mention all-Pac-10 wide receiver at the University of Arizona. He is "fully sleeved," as they say in the world of skin ink, tattoos covering both arms, shoulder to wrist. Silver rings on almost every finger. Espresso addict, chain smoker. He's stopped doing handfuls of Hydroxycut, the diet pills, the legal uppers, that kept him stoked when he was riding with the Angels, hands thrown up on the ape hangers, but he still looks like if he hit you, you'd stay hit.
"I'm not anybody's knight in shining armor," he's saying, explaining why he's committing career suicide, filing suits like this, alerting members of Congress of his claims, "but there's a greater good here. Nobody has ever stood up to these guys before."
He digs into the pasta and flips through the shorthand notes he penned in all capital letters, in red ink, for today's interview: "Only people who hate me more than the Hells Angels are ATF's shot-callers." And: "I have God and a gun on my side -- I will be OK." And: "U.S. gov't left me alone to defend my family from an international crime syndicate."
He's no longer in hiding; he's full-bore into the lawsuits. He'll go on for two minutes or two hours, it's up to you, about how the ATF accused him of burning his own house down and said he was "mentally unfit" to work. He says a recent mediation hearing produced this offer from the agency: Quit or be fired.