Former Duluth youth pastor accused of criminal sexual conduct involving minors

A former youth pastor in Duluth is facing criminal sexual conduct charges involving multiple minors. 

Jackson Gatlin, 35, is facing 10 charges of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly assaulting five girls between 2007 and 2010. Prosecutors say the victims were between 11 and 16 years old at the time of the offenses.

The criminal complaint filed in St. Louis County court on Tuesday said in October 2022, the church was made aware by a former member of Gatlin’s youth group that he had been having sexual relations with minors in the program about a decade prior.

Gatlin was a youth pastor at The Vineyard Church, while his parents, Michael and Brenda Gatlin, were the lead pastor and senior pastor at the church, respectively. 

During the investigation, police spoke to five girls that Jackson Gatlin allegedly assaulted when he was between 19 and 22 years old. The criminal complaint states the majority of the victims reported the assaults happened at Gatlin’s home, in his vehicle, and in one instance, on the bus during a youth trip to the Twin Cities. 

Law enforcement said on multiple occasions, the victim’s parents informed Jackson Gatlin’s parents of what was happening, but they dismissed them, according to the complaint.  

A youth group pastor at the church told investigators Jackson Gatlin "received special privileges" in the church because of his parents' status and he didn’t have to go through the lengthy vetting process before working with younger members. 

On multiple occasions, members of the church claimed seeing Jackson giving young girls rides in his vehicle and one member said he found Jackson and a victim in "private and secluded rooms on multiple occasions," charges read. The youth pastor said the church has rules prohibiting members of the opposite sex from being alone.

The Vineyard Church posted a lengthy timeline of their investigation into the alleged abuse. Jackson, Brenda and Michael Gatlin left the church in February 2023. 

"We are sorry that the Duluth Vineyard was the kind of place where this kind of behavior could happen. We apologize to the reporting victims and the Twin Ports community. We are working to develop a culture that is more resistant to abuse and toxicity. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere. This is not an excuse for it happening in the context of the Duluth Vineyard community. Rather, this is a call for change in our broader society as well," the church wrote on their website Tuesday. 

According to court records, Jackson Gatlin is facing multiple charges for the victims:

  • Victim #1: Third-degree and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct using force or coercion.
  • Victim #2: Attempted first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Second-degree criminal sexual conduct causing personal injury.
  • Victim #3: Fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct while in a position of authority. Fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct defendant more than 48 months older.
  • Victim #4: First-degree criminal sexual conduct defendant more than 36 months older. Two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct defendant more than 36 months older (victim under 13).
  • Victim #5: First-degree criminal sexual conduct while in a position of authority (victim 13-15).

Jackson Gatlin was booked into the St. Louis County Jail on Tuesday afternoon.