Jay Anthony "Jaybird" Dobyns (born 1961), is a retired Special Agent and veteran undercover operative with the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), New York Times Best-Selling author, and public speaker.
Dobyns was born in Hammond, Indiana in 1961, but was raised in Tucson, Arizona. He was a standout athlete in several sports at Sahuaro High School before attending the University of Arizona to play football. He became an All-Pacific-10 conference wide receiver, College Football All-American Candidate at Wide Receiver and was named to Arizona Wildcats “All-Century” football team. In 2012, Dobyns was named the "#1 Badass Arizona football player in history" by the Tucson Citizen newspaper. Dobyns graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in Public Administration. After college, he played briefly in the Canadian Football League (1985) and United States Football League (1986) before deciding to become a federal law enforcement agent.
Federal law enforcement career
Dobyns became a Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in 1987. Less than a week after beginning operational duty, he was taken hostage at gunpoint in the Tucson desert while serving an arrest warrant on a convicted felon who was recently released from prison. The suspect forced Dobyns into the driver seat of the officers’ undercover car, which was immediately surrounded by the other agents with guns drawn. During a brief standoff, the agitated gunman repeatedly screamed at Dobyns to drive away. When Dobyns intentionally pulled the car keys from the ignition and dropped them to the floor, the assailant fired a single .38 caliber pistol bullet into Dobyns’ lung, which exited his upper chest. The other ATF agents instantly opened fire from both sides of the car, killing the gunman. Critically wounded, Dobyns was rushed to a Tucson hospital, where Dr. Richard Carmona, who later became the 17th United States Surgeon General, performed emergency trauma surgery that saved Dobyns’ life.
Despite the severity of his wounds, Dobyns refused disability retirement and returned to duty within months of the shooting. For the next two decades, he conducted over 500 undercover operations, developing expertise in violent crime investigations, weapons and narcotics trafficking, gang infiltrations, home invasion burglary and murder-for-hire cases. He also served as an instructor at ATF’s National Academy and member of the Bureau’s Enhanced Undercover Program. He was repeatedly detailed to high-profile criminal and terrorism events including the "Rodney King" riots in Los Angeles, California, the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas, the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, and the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Decorations and awards
Dobyns has received the United States Attorney General's Medal of Valor, twelve ATF Special Act Awards, two ATF Gold Stars for critical injuries received during investigative operations, an ATF Distinguished Service Medal for outstanding investigative accomplishment, the ATF Academy's Eddie Benetez award honoring exceptional physical fitness, the International Narcotics Officers Association Medal of Valor, the National Association of Police Officers “Top Cop” Award, the International Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association Undercover Achievement Award, and the Australian Law Enforcement Practitioners Significant Infiltration Award.
Hells Angels infiltration: "Operation Black Biscuit"
In April 2002, a deadly altercation broke out between the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and their arch-rivals, the Mongols Motorcycle Club in the middle of a Laughlin, Nevada casino filled with innocent bystanders, prompting federal law enforcement to open an undercover investigation called "Operation Black Biscuit", which included Dobyns.
Over nearly two years of undercover operations, Dobyns and a team of ATF agents, technicians and confidential informants infiltrated the Hells Angels, primarily in Arizona. Dobyns posed as a gunrunner and member of a "solo" outlaw motorcycle club interested in joining the Angels. To earn his "patch" (full membership into the gang) and further establish his credibility as a potential member ("Prospect") with the club’s leadership, Dobyns staged the fake "murder" of a member of the rival Mongols Motorcycle Club. A law enforcement officer posing as the Mongols biker was splattered with lamb blood and brains, photographed and videotaped lying in a shallow grave. Dobyns had a bloodstained Mongols’ "cut" (leather biker vest with club patches) mailed to the Hells Angels from somewhere in Mexico, and provided a videotape and pictures of the "killing". According to Dobyns and ATF, the Hells Angels leadership was highly impressed and immediately voted Dobyns in as a full "patched" member of the club. Although awarded his Hells Angels vest by the leadership of the Skull Valley charter, the club, including its legendary founder, Ralph "Sonny" Barger, have vehemently denied that Dobyns was ever "patched-in"
Although the "Black Biscuit" investigation was deemed "successful" by ATF and yielded numerous criminal indictments for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) violations and other felony charges, internal government disagreement ultimately led to some of the primary defendants receiving reduced sentences or having their charges dismissed.
Death and violence threats and allegations of ATF mismanagement
In 2004, following the exposure of his true identity during the "Black Biscuit" prosecutions, Dobyns and his family became the targets of death threats by various organizations, including the Hells Angels, Aryan Brotherhood and Mara Salvatrucha ("MS-13") gang members and associates. According to Dobyns and official investigative reports by government watchdog agencies, ATF management failed to take reasonable measures to protect Dobyns and his family from numerous validated threats, including gang plans to infect Dobyns with the HIV virus, videotape the gang rape of his wife and daughter, and otherwise torture and murder them all.
Dobyns now claims ATF management failed to support Dobyns and his family during the threat events. In 2008, ATF management suddenly withdrew the Dobyns family’s "backstopping" (protective countermeasures, cover stories, fake identities, untraceable drivers licenses, vehicle plates and other measures designed to make it difficult to discover a person’s true identity and living location). ATF claimed that the backstop measures were no longer justified, but Dobyns alleged that this was done purely as an act of illegal retaliation by his ATF bosses, with whom he had had a falling out over disagreements in the aftermath of the Hells Angels case. This action compromised Dobyns’ only remaining cover.
In August 2008, four months after ATF forced the location of his home into the public domain, his Tucson residence was the target of a late night arson attack while his wife and two children were asleep inside. They escaped with only smoke inhalation injuries, but the ensuing fire destroyed the home and most of the family’s belongings. After a preliminary investigation, Dobyns became the primary suspect in the arson of his own home. Dobyns was terminated (allowed to retire early under threat of termination) by ATF as "Unsuitable as an Agent" and "Unstable", and investigations into alleged bizarre and unprofessional behavior as an Agent began. Dobyns retaliated with multiple lawsuits after being denied an appeal and his termination/early retirement was upheld. According to Dobyns, His claims of the federal government’s failure to adequately deal with the extraordinary threats has been documented by several government watchdog agencies, and eventually led Dobyns to become a federal whistleblower.This is in dispute. He claims that he has exposed the United States Department of Justice's mismanagement and failure to protect undercover agents, but no Federal Agency has backed him up at this time. The Office of the Inspector General and the United States Office of Special Counsel concluded that, "ATF needlessly and inappropriately delayed its response to, and investigation of, threats against its own agent." According to Dobyns,These findings were also reported to the office of Attorney General Eric Holder, other senior executives at the Department of Justice, and to the Obama Administration White House, but no additional action to protect the Dobyns family was ever ordered. No proof of this exists at this time to back this up.
In February 2009, Dobyns became a New York Times bestselling author following the release of his book, No Angel - My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels (Random House ISBN 978-0-307-40585-2 (0-307-40585-0). The book chronicles the Hells Angels investigation and how it impacted his life and career. Dobyns' exploits as an undercover agent are also memorialized in the novels, Angels of Death, by Julian Sher and William Marsden, and Running with the Devil, by Kerrie Droban.
Lawsuit and Results
In 2008 Dobyns filed a federal lawsuit against ATF for these retaliations and crimes in the United States Court of Federal Claims. DOJ immediately filed a retaliatory counter-suit against Dobyns claiming proceeds from his book. (Jay Dobyns v. United States of America, Case Number 08-700C, U.S. Federal Court of Claims, Washington, D.C., presiding Judge, Hon. Francis M. Allegra).
In September 2014, after a six-year court battle with ATF and DOJ, Dobyns won his case. Judge Francis Allegra issued a 54-page "landmark" verdict vindicating Dobyns, laid blame on ATF for retaliation, and endangerment for the Bureau’s failed attempts to frame Dobyns; Allegra dismissed the DOJ countersuit against Dobyns for his book royalties. The judge ruled that ATF was corrupt in attempting to cover up its conduct by withholding evidence and using perjured testimony.
Judge Allegra wrote in his final opinion referencing similarities in the Franz Kafka novel The Trial to Dobyns's situation, ""Kafka depicts a totalitarian state in which the government suppressed freedom via a deluge of circuitous and irrational process. 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.""
Dobyns has been featured in television documentaries produced by The History Channel, including "Gangland: Behind Enemy Lines", "America's Book of Secrets", "Outlaw Chronicles", the National Geographic Channel’s "Inside: Outlaw Bikers - Hells Angels", Fox Television's " America's Most Wanted", and Investigation Discovery's "Deadly Devotions" detailing his involvement in an investigation of a murder committed by the Hells Angels. In 2015 Dobyns was an on-camera contributor to the television series "Outlaw Chronicles" and, 2016 he was featured as the pilot episode of the program "Deep Undercover".
Dobyns has appeared on national news programs such as Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN), Fox News, The FOX Report with Shepard Smith (FOX), and many others, discussing the death threats he has received, the federal government’s failures related to those situations, and his status as a whistleblower. He has also been featured in Newsweek Magazine, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and on National Public Radio.
Dobyns has been an outspoken critic of ATF's "Operation Fast and Furious", a government-sponsored gun trafficking operation that channeled thousands of military-grade weapons into the hands of Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO's) and Mexican Drug Cartels Several of the key ATF management officials identified by Congress and the DoJ Inspector General as being responsible for the flawed "gun-walking" operation were the same managers who had previously ignored threats against Dobyns and his family.
Dobyns has been critical of the United States Congress for its failure to take meaningful action to protect government employees from suspect-related threats.
In January 2014, Dobyns retired from federal service. Dobyns owns and operates the Jay Dobyns Group, LLC., a privately held company offering public speaking presentations and proprietary law enforcement training. He also owns and operates "FoFig Films, LLC.", a production company specializing in authentic law enforcement films.
Dobyns is involved with a number of charitable causes such as Heartbeat for Africa, the Beat Cancer Boot Camp, Boys Hope Girls Hope, the Brian Terry Foundation, the Parkinson Foundation, anti-bullying programs, and Safe Call Now, an organization designed to provide counseling and support to public safety personnel and their families.