Posted: Dec. 1, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The day after state Rep. John C. Atkins was arrested for offensive touching in a domestic dispute with his wife Heather, he appeared on a talk radio show to deny he was drinking beforehand.

With the election breathing down on him, Atkins turned to a friendly broadcast at WGMD Radio News 92.7 FM on Oct. 30 for damage control, apologizing to his Sussex County constituents and insisting as part of his act of contrition, "There was no alcohol involved."

There seems to be evidence to the contrary.

Barry Neeb, the public information officer for the Ocean City Police Department in Maryland, told Delaware Grapevine on Friday that Atkins appeared to be drinking and driving, although not enough to be over the legal limit, when police stopped him for speeding Saturday night, Oct. 28, on Coastal Highway in a vehicle with his wife.

Police let him get another driver and leave town for his Millsboro home, Neeb said. He was unable to provide any more information about the incident because the police report was forwarded to the Millsboro Police Department and is regarded as confidential evidence in an ongoing prosecution.

"I can confirm that he was stopped that night by us," Neeb said.

Atkins could not be reached Friday for comment. He previously acknowledged that he grabbed his wife's arm during an argument in the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct. 29, and was arrested after a Millsboro police officer responded to a 911 hang-up call he made and then changed his mind.

Atkins, 36, is a Republican who was elected to his third term with 63 percent of the vote after the domestic incident. A law-and-order conservative, he spent the last legislative session as the chair of the House Corrections Committee, which has jurisdiction over the prison system, where Heather Atkins works.

Atkins' case could be heard as early as next week in the Family Court, where it could all but disappear if he enters a first offenders' program, accepting a provisional guilty plea that would be set aside on the condition that he receive counseling and stay out of trouble for a year.

The Ocean City police report probably would disappear with it. "In Delaware, police reports are explicitly exempt from Freedom of Information Act disclosure, and the Department of Justice does not comment on the facts of cases during active prosecution," State Prosecutor Steven P. Wood said.

Still unresolved is the matter of whether Atkins misled the voters with his "no alcohol" remark on WGMD. John F. Brady, the House Republican attorney who is representing Atkins, said he knew nothing that could clear it up, although he was aware of the apparent discrepancy.

"So I've heard," Brady said.