Violent criminal on federal payroll as informant
Despite a history of abusing women and violent behavior in prison, Joshua Allan Jackson managed to become a federal informant, trigger a citywide Seattle police alert and hold a 18-year-old woman as his sexual prisoner.
Seattle Times staff reporters
By almost anybody's standards, Joshua Allan Jackson is bad news.
A felon with a lengthy history of violence against women, Jackson was sentenced to 10 years in prison April 13 for sexually abusing an 18-year-old woman and holding her against her will for days inside a cheap South Seattle motel last year. The woman told investigators Jackson forced her to audition for a porn film and at one point choked her so hard she almost lost consciousness.
As part of the case, Jackson also admitted to criminal impersonation on various occasions when he told the victim and seven other people that he was a federal agent or a police officer.
During a fight with an alleged drug dealer at another Seattle motel, Jackson told the manager he was a federal agent. The incident would have been almost comical had it not resulted in a citywide "help the officer" call, one of the Police Department's most urgent alerts. Officers from throughout the city rushed to the motel, only to discover the heavily-tattooed Jackson was not a federal agent.
For all of this, the 34-year-old Jackson would be just another habitual criminal except for one startling fact: He was working the entire time as a paid informant for the Seattle office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The agency made Jackson an informant even though he had come out of prison early last year with a documented reputation as a violent, mentally unstable inmate who had been arrested in nearly every state and posed a serious threat to law-enforcement officers.
Jackson's relationship with the ATF, as the agency is commonly called, provides a rare look into the shadowy world of confidential informants, who have long played an essential role in helping law enforcement solve crimes but also can pose serious risks.
ATF paid for the motel room where the woman was sexually abused, according to police records obtained by The Seattle Times. Only months before the assault, the records show, a concerned Seattle police officer spoke to an ATF agent on the phone after Jackson had reportedly flashed a badge. The agent vouched for Jackson.
The agent's first words to the officer were, "What did Josh do now?"
It isn't clear what value Jackson provided to the ATF. The agency declined to discuss Jackson, citing the need to protect the safety of informants and their families, as well as agents.
In a December interview with Times reporters at the King County Jail, the muscular Jackson said he had worked the streets for the ATF to identify criminals.
He said he came in contact with ATF through a Seattle police officer he had met on the streets. Jackson, whose account couldn't be independently verified, said he thought he'd "like to make a little cash, and I thought I could help those guys."
From memory, he readily produced the cellphone number of the agent he named as his main handler. The agent answered the phone when called by a Times reporter.
Incarceration was nothing new to Jackson.
A Times review of nearly 800 pages of prison and prosecution documents revealed the Bronx, N.Y., native had been jailed in 43 states. His convictions date to the 1990s and include breaking and entering, robbery and larceny.
It isn't clear when Jackson moved to Washington, but records show he was arrested in Spokane in 2007 after a 25-year-old woman he had been dating reported he had assaulted her.
After getting out of jail, he told the woman he was going to torture her parents in front of each other before killing them. He also sent threatening emails to her parents.
The woman told detectives Jackson claimed he had brutally killed 27 men and two women, and had hidden many of the bodies in Florida's Everglades. Terrorized, the woman and her family had the locks changed on their doors, according to court documents.
At one point, she alleged, Jackson measured her legs to ensure they would fit into plastic bags after he killed and dismembered her.
Jackson was charged in December 2007 with cyberstalking that included death threats. He pleaded guilty and was given a six-month sentence with credit for 69 days already spent in jail.
In March 2008, police responded to a domestic dispute in which his live-in girlfriend complained Jackson had trashed their apartment. She told police he armed himself with knives after discovering she had sent a text message to an old boyfriend.
Jackson told the woman he was working undercover for police. In July of that year, an FBI agent and a Spokane police officer visited Jackson, ordering him to quit telling people he was an FBI agent, according to prison records.
Jackson, charged with unlawful imprisonment of the woman, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months in jail.
In both cases, he was placed on community supervision with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) after his release from jail. But he repeatedly violated the terms of his release, earning three separate stints in state prison, totaling more than 18 months.
No model prisoner
Jackson's 400-page prison file is filled with disciplinary reports, most notably for smearing himself with feces, attacking guards, chewing through restraints and making lewd comments to female officers. He spent 11 of the 18 months in isolation for breaking rules.
In emails, frustrated corrections officials wondered what to do with him when he got out.
Worried that Jackson had worn out his welcome in Spokane County, they decided to send him to Seattle, where it was hoped he might have a better chance to change his ways in a larger urban environment.
In letters to his new community corrections officer, Jackson acknowledged he had issues with women and violence.
"My problems women not drugs not crime, my problems come from Ike Turner-ing a dame or two," Jackson wrote, referring to the late rock and soul musician accused of domestic abuse by singer and ex-wife Tina Turner.
Upon Jackson's release on Feb. 3, 2011, DOC issued an "officer safety warning" to Seattle-area police, telling officers Jackson was on the streets and should be considered a "high violent" risk. The bulletin noted Jackson had bragged of killing a police officer in Colorado, although there was no evidence he had.
A fresh start
Almost immediately after leaving prison, he came to the attention of Seattle police.
Last May, Seattle police Officer Rob Mahoney and another officer conducted a "premises check" at the Everspring Inn in North Seattle, where Jackson was living. The motel's manager, Steve McDaniel, told them Jackson had been asking for personal information about other guests, and he had flashed a badge.
McDaniel, who has since left his job at the Everspring, told The Times that Jackson identified himself as some kind of agent who wanted that kept confidential because he was part of an ATF undercover operation.
McDaniel said he hired Jackson as night security guard to deal with persistent problems at the Aurora Avenue motel, giving him a free room as compensation.
"He was very personable," McDaniel told The Times. "I believed everything he said. He was always clean-cut and dressed very nice."
During the premises check, Mahoney and the other officer spoke with Jackson, who denied having a badge but claimed he was an ATF informant "working a 'big' operation," Mahoney wrote in his report. Jackson called an ATF agent and handed the phone to Mahoney.
It was during that exchange the agent asked, "What did Josh do now?" Mahoney wrote.
Later, Mahoney confirmed through a Seattle police gang detective that Jackson was a federal informant. The gang detective related that the "ATF agent acknowledged Jackson was not all quite there, as it were," according to a police report.
In June, Jackson searched the room of a resident and purportedly found drugs. "We got heroin!" he told McDaniel.
After police were called, Jackson persuaded officers to let him keep the drugs by telling them he was involved in a "buy-bust" operation, the police report said. The occupant of the room was wanted on an arrest warrant, and McDaniel was told to call police if he returned.
When the guest returned, Jackson confronted him, sparking a fight in the motel's office. Jackson identified himself as a federal agent, triggering the citywide police response.
McDaniel told The Times he began to doubt Jackson's claims after the incident. "It turned into a frickin' nightmare," McDaniel said. "I am thinking, 'Is this guy really from the ATF?' "
Jackson didn't have a gun or a badge, McDaniel said, making him wonder, "What is he doing arresting people without a badge and a gun? Plus, he is blowing his cover."
McDaniel said Jackson's ATF boss, who he knew only as "Jim," told him Jackson "got them a lot of valuable information," but that Jackson didn't know when to "draw the line" and was a "high maintenance" informant.
After the Everspring incident, Jackson spent 14 days in the King County Jail for violating conditions of his prison release.
Jackson next moved to the Munson Motel in South Seattle on the ATF's tab.
In September, he met a woman in downtown Seattle, telling her his name was "D'Angelo" and that he worked for an entertainment-TV channel, according to police records. He said he could help her with a modeling career.
Two days later, Jackson told her he worked for the FBI and set up drug dealers. She and Jackson went to the motel.
Jackson persuaded her to burglarize the home of her ex-boyfriend, she told investigators. From that point, what had been a consensual relationship turned into one dominated by Jackson, she said.
He disabled the woman's cellphone, wouldn't let her leave the room, forced her to have sex, choked her and made her audition for a porn film.
During their time together, she said, Jackson took her to Seattle's ATF office.
On Oct. 5, the woman told Jackson she was sick. He took her to a public-health office in South Seattle, where she told workers that Jackson was holding her against her will and had forced her to have sex.
She told them he had showed her a badge and was afraid she couldn't do anything to stop him.
Police were called and Jackson was arrested. In the jail interview with The Times, Jackson said he had hoped the ATF would help him after his arrest.
"They ain't done nothing," he said, talking on a telephone handset through a thick glass window.
While working for ATF, he said, agents gave him cash, drugs and cigarettes to sell "to build some street cred," but he denied he ever represented himself as an actual agent.
"I always just said, 'I work with ATF,' not that I was an agent. People hear what they want, you know?" he said.
His claim is contradicted in witness statements and in police reports, which portray him as using his status to impress or intimidate, depending on the circumstance.
Little to say
How much ATF delved into Jackson's background before using him isn't known.
ATF agent Jim Contreras — who is identified in police reports as Jackson's handler and answered the cellphone number provided by Jackson — declined to comment. Contreras referred questions to the ATF spokeswoman in Seattle, Cheryl Bishop, who said: "We do not discuss informants, or whether an individual has worked in that capacity."
An ATF spokesman in Washington, D.C., Drew Wade, said only that the agency follows U.S. Department of Justice guidelines on informants.
The guidelines, created in response to the case of James "Whitey" Bulger, the legendary Boston crime boss accused of a string of murders while working as an FBI informant, require the case agent to conduct an "Initial Suitability Determination," which must be approved by a supervisor. Among the factors to be considered are a potential informant's criminal history, as well as an evaluation of "whether the person is reasonably believed to pose a danger to the public or other criminal threat ... ."
Under the guidelines, agents must make every effort to closely supervise informants and tell them to refrain from violent acts.
Bid for transparency
U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced legislation last year that would require federal law-enforcement agencies to semiannually report to Congress all serious crimes committed by their confidential informants. Names would be kept confidential. Lynch, whose bill has been referred to committee, said more oversight is needed in light of the Bulger case and subsequent disclosures involving a reputed New England Mafia figure, Mark Rossetti, identified as an FBI informant suspected in six homicides. Legislation could force agencies to explain their protocols and how they spend taxpayer dollars, Lynch said, noting agents use informants in hopes of making the "big pinch."
Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and an expert on confidential informants, said that while informants are necessary, the risk of violence toward women, children and vulnerable people should be nonnegotiable.
"We should take those risks especially seriously when we are weighing whether a person's information should let them get a pass on their own criminal behavior ... ," Natapoff said.
Back to prison
During Jackson's sentencing last month for confining and sexually abusing the young woman, the prosecutor and defense attorney confirmed his work as an ATF informant. Jackson told the judge he had put at least 100 people in prison and helped get kilos of drugs off the street, a claim Senior Deputy Prosecutor Alexandra Voorhees afterward called "hyperbole."
His attorney, Steve Witchley, told the judge his client had suffered severe mental problems since childhood, in part because of sexual abuse in his family and foster homes.
He said Jackson had done good work for the ATF, but the agency "threw Josh under the bus" and abandoned him.
As Jackson left the courtroom in shackles, the question remained: Why did the ATF let him on the bus in the first place?
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which includes material from The Boston Globe.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or email@example.com
Information in this article, originally published May 12, 2012, was corrected July 10, 2012. A previous version of this story incorrectly reported, on first reference, when Joshua Allan Jackson reportedly flashed a badge.