DULUTH — A Duluth man who worked as a youth pastor faces criminal charges of sexually assaulting five girls involved with Duluth Vineyard Church's youth group in the late 2000s.
Jackson Michael Gatlin, 35, is charged with 10 felony counts and was booked early Tuesday afternoon at the St. Louis County Jail.
It's been almost a year since a member of the church's senior leadership was approached by a former member of the youth group who said that Gatlin had assaulted students, according to the criminal complaint. Since then, at least five women have come forward with stories about the longtime leader, whose parents Michael and Brenda Gatlin held positions of authority within the organization.
Vineyard Church contacted the Duluth Police Department and brought in Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), a nonprofit organization that conducts independent investigations. The church severed ties with the Gatlin family earlier this year when they refused to cooperate, it said at the time.
"We apologize to the reporting victims and the Twin Ports community," the four-person special committee of the church council wrote in a message posted Tuesday to the church's website. "We are working to develop a culture that is more resistant to abuse and toxicity."
The committee also asked for friends of Gatlin to stay by his side.
"God also requires us to love mercy," they wrote. "At the same time that our hearts break for reporting victims, we recognize the difficult position and pain the Gatlins are in. We are not pre–judging Jackson regarding any criminal allegations and we will wait patiently for the judicial process to be completed."
Gatlin does not yet have a lawyer listed for him in court records. Michael Gatlin did not respond to messages.
According to the criminal complaint: In the late 2000s, Gatlin found ways to spend time alone with girls as young as 12. He assaulted one on a bus ride home from a church event, another whom he had tied to his parents' bed, and another under the guise of watching a football game together at his family's home, the complaint said. In his early 20s, he regularly kissed and groped a girl who was 16 and a few years later he regularly assaulted a girl who was 15, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, church leaders told investigators that Gatlin received special privileges because of his parents' positions within the organization. He wasn't vetted, like youth group leaders usually are, and he violated rules about being alone with members of the opposite sex, the complaint said.
Gatlin worked with young people at the church between 2006 and 2023 when was he fired by Vineyard Church. Michael Gatlin was a senior pastor for 25 years and Brenda Gatlin worked for Vineyard USA.