Former pastoral assistant at Duluth church facing multiple charges of criminal sexual conduct

Booked into St. Louis County Jail Tuesday
According to the criminal complaint, the alleged incidents span from 2007 to 2010.
Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 2:32 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 3, 2023 at 3:39 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - The former pastoral assistant at the Vineyard Church in Duluth has been officially charged.

Jackson Michael Gatlin, 35, of Duluth has been charged with multiple degrees of criminal sexual conduct as five criminal complaints were filed against him.

He was arrested and booked into the St. Louis County Jail on Tuesday.

According to the criminal complaint, the alleged incidents span from 2007 to 2010.

Gatlin was involved with the church in various capacities as a youth pastor from approximately 2006 to his suspension and termination in early 2023.

Back in October 2022, a member of senior church leadership was approached by a former member of Gatlin’s youth group.

They stated Gatlin had been having sex with underage students in the youth group.

In November, church leadership contacted Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) and asked them to investigate the claims.

GRACE is an independent investigative organization that contracts with churches to investigate allegations of abuse.

By the end of January 2023, a report was made to the Duluth Police Department and an investigation started.

RELATED: Senior pastor of Duluth Vineyard church resigns

Court documents shows investigators interviewer five alleged victims.

At the time of the assaults, the alleged victims were between the ages of 12 and 16 years old.

Gatlin was over 19 years old when the first assault occurred.

In addition, Gatlin’s parents were allegedly notified of two of the assaults.

No action was taken even though both of Gatlin’s parents were mandated reporters.

Authorities say multiple victims and witnesses described the culture of the church as insular and controlling, with the Gatlins exerting a great deal of influence.

A former Youth Pastor at the church told investigators Gatlin was immune from consequence because of his status as the pastor’s child.

According to a witness, Gatlin was a volunteer youth leader and he received special privileges because of his parents’ status within the church.

Normally a volunteer youth leader would be subject to a vetting process before being allowed to work with youth.

This process involved multiple meetings with the witness, a background check, and training.

However, according to a Youth Pastor, Gatlin did not have to do this vetting process and instead was placed in a “lead” position within the youth group.

RELATED: Duluth PD executes search warrant on Vineyard Church

The Vineyard Church sent the following in an email to their congregation on Tuesday:

“To the victims reporting crimes against Jackson, our hearts are broken by your pain. We pray that you experience comfort, healing and peace. We thank you for the courage it took to tell your story and we hope that the law enforcement process helps bring healing for you. We also pray that God gives you even more courage, strength and hope. We are in this tragedy with you. And, to the extent you are comfortable, we want to love and care for you.

We also recognize that the law enforcement process may cause reporting victims to be triggered, including involuntarily recalling past trauma. We want to help and we can imagine and respect that you may be hesitant to accept assistance from us. You can engage with us as much or as little as you choose. For example, we’d love to pray with you and/or help provide professional counseling for you. For more information, please contact Becca Eastvold at (218) 389-7684 or

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.

Also, we want to once again say to all survivors of abuse that we hear you and believe you. It is never your fault. And, you are not alone. We are praying for you and calling our community to a time of prayer and lament. As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to abuse the safety and care of survivors must always come first.”

Gatlin is looking at up to 30 years in prison for the assaults.

His next court date hasn’t been scheduled at this time.

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