On the paper trail of a pedophile, Part 5: Signs of Trouble?
This blog is the fifth in a series on John David Roy Atchison, Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola, arrested in Detroit in September 2007 on charges relating to pedophilia. He committed suicide in federal prison in October 2007; arrest and suicide were not foregrounded by the Justice Department in the Bush administration. FBI material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals a possible clue to Atchison’s secret development as an adherent of child pornography during his federal career.
John Davenport Gay is not a household name in America, but he is a former defendant and inmate whose own troubles could possibly have served as a clue to those of Roy Atchison. Friends, relatives and community were stunned when Atchison was arrested in September 2007 on highly credible charges relating to pedophilia. One man who might not have been entirely surprised was Gay.
Repeated efforts to reach Gay for comment have been unsuccessful. His present whereabouts are not known. However, federal records show that Gay, a longtime Florida resident, had his house searched under federal warrant in July 1994. According to the records, his difficulties with the law pertained to possession of pornographic materials.
John D. Gay, who lived in Pensacola, Florida, unsuccessfully sued Atchison for return of the materials collected. Gay was plaintiff in seven such unsuccessful lawsuits; he sued the city of Gulf Breeze, the United States government, the Gulf Breeze Police Department, the Florida Department of Corrections, and other federal officials as well as Atchison. In one of the civil suits, Gay was joined as plaintiff by his father, Kenneth R. Gay, Sr. The federal cases were defended by the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Northern District of Florida, where Atchison worked.
Some of John Davenport Gay’s legal motions were writs for habeas corpus. But several were efforts to reclaim property seized from him. In every such case, the “MOTION by plaintiff JOHN DAVENPORT GAY for return of seized property” was denied by a judge. Porn aficionados have certain First Amendment rights, viz. Larry Flynt and Hustler mag, but they tend to receive little sympathy in courtrooms, even in camera.
The United States was defended in the legal matter by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Preisser in the U.S. Attorney’s office (1995). Atchison himself as defendant individually was represented by AUSA Michael P. Finney (1994). Preisser, still at the NDFL, and Finney were apparently not among co-workers interviewed by the FBI in Atchison’s 1995 re-investigation, who gave Atchison high marks.
As noted, Roy Atchison served under four presidents—Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush—before his problems came to light. His supervisors routinely gave him high marks, and neither the FBI background check for his initial appointment as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia nor his reinvestigation in 1995 turned up any concern that was followed up on. His superior in the Northern District of Florida cheerfully told investigators that he “stole” Atchison from the Georgia office. The occasion for the 1995 reinvestigation was, according to the FBI, that Atchison was being considered for a “presidential appointment.” The Clinton Presidential Library, searching under a FOIA request, indicates by letter that no records responsive to the name John David Roy Atchison are found among Clinton’s presidential papers.
Reagan’s U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, serving when Roy Atchison came on board as AUSA, was Larry D. Thompson, to be replaced in 1986 by Bob Barr. Questions placed to Barr about Atchison’s tenure at the Atlanta office have not yet been answered. During Roy Atchison’s tenure at the Northern District of Florida, the U.S. Attorneys were Kevin Michael Moore, appointed to a federal judgeship by George H. W. Bush; Kenneth Sukhia, appointed by the elder Bush; and Bill Clinton appointee Gregory R. Miller, who was retained as U.S. Attorney by George W. Bush and continued to serve until 2008.
The statement publicly released by Miller’s office when Miller left for private practice reads in part,
“Mr. Miller oversees 34 attorneys in Gainesville, Tallahassee, and Pensacola. During the past six years, Mr. Miller and his office played a prominent role in fighting crime and terrorism in Northern Florida and elsewhere. He placed a special priority on the investigation and prosecution of child exploitation offenses, civil rights violations, white collar crime, organized crime, and drug trafficking.”
Miller’s name turned up, reportedly to his surprise, on the highly publicized list of eight U.S. Attorneys designated for firing in the infamous 2007 U.S. Attorneys scandal, but no available record explicitly indicates that Miller’s being on the endangered list was in any way connected with Roy Atchison. Miller’s name was subsequently taken off the list.
Back to that civil lawsuit brought by John Davenport Gay against Roy Atchison:
Gay filed the first complaint in January 1994. As mentioned, Gay’s house was searched under a federal warrant issued in July 1994. A series of more than 25 legal motions back and forth clarifies that the legal action was over “the subject camera and camera equipment as well as those photographs that are the subject of the case,” along with “miscellaneous items of property” belonging to Gay.
It is not clear from the records why Atchison, who specialized in house/real property foreclosures and seizures, would also have had Gay’s camera, camera equipment and photographs seized. It is also not clear why the search warrant clearing authorities to search the house Gay lived in, on Char Bar Street in Pensacola, was issued only in July 1994, more than six months after John Davenport Gay initiated a legal action to retrieve his property from the authorities. The search warrant was signed by Magistrate Judge Susan M. Novotny, one of the judges who presided in Gay’s civil actions, along with Judge Lacey Collier. Gay’s lawsuits all ended up defeated in court or dismissed by the court. By the time Atchison was arrested in September 2007, as written, he had acquired a collection of hundreds of photographs of child pornography.
One of the longtime friends or acquaintances most surprised by what developed with Roy Atchison was Georgia attorney George Witcher, one of Atchison’s law school classmates at Cumberland and a reference given by Atchison as a close personal acquaintance for the background checks. Interviewed by telephone, Witcher says, “I knew him well, or thought I did—turns out I didn’t.” Witcher and Atchison were in close touch throughout law school “and for a while afterward.” Witcher adds that he and Atchison had fallen out of touch in recent years; in one attempt to communicate with Atchison, “he brushed me off.” Roy Atchison “was always upwardly mobile,” as Witcher puts it, but changed in recent years, becoming more distant or preoccupied for unstated reasons.
It will be noted that the over-all reflection on Roy Atchison’s chain of command does not look good. He came on board with the feds under Ronald Reagan, elected with the help of the goody-goody hard right, serving in Georgia and in Florida under a series of Republican-appointed U.S. Attorneys. His tenure in the Pensacola office overlapped with the extensive investigation into President Bill Clinton’s sex life by hundreds of FBI agents. Atchison then served for several more years—almost seven, to be exact—under George W. Bush, during both the post-9/11 ‘security’ ‘crackdown’ and the political designation of a cluster of federal prosecutors to be fired during Bush’s second term. It was during this latter period, if not before, that Roy Atchison distinguished himself by 1) spending so much time in the office on personal computers and on office computers that at least one colleague thought he had a business on the side; 2) engaging in collecting and viewing child pornography at work; 3) attempting to branch out in his sex life, allegedly, in connection with travel, possibly including official travel; and 4) finally attempting full-blown pedophilia acts that resulted in his arrest.
Much remains unclear. But one thing is clear: everything in Atchison’s track record suggests that the people who hired him, who supervised him and who worked with him were comfortable with him as a non-MENSA candidate. His story is among other things the story of a non-egghead go-getter who went along, seemingly, to get along, and that was enough to keep him positioned in a federal position that many more deserving people could never get.
Perhaps it could be considered fitting, in a macabre gallows-humor way, that Roy Atchison spared the feds further exposure and embarrassment by killing himself in prison. But his suicide raises further questions as to how he was enabled to carry it off.
Next, Part 6: How he succeeded in suicide while in federal custody.