Posted: Oct. 29, 2006; updated: Oct. 30, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

State Rep. John C. Atkins, a Millsboro Republican, was arrested for offensive touching in a dispute with his wife Heather after a town police officer went to their home early Sunday morning to check out a 911 hang-up call.

With the election approaching next Tuesday, John Atkins moved to contain the situation by issuing a press release Sunday evening through the House Republican staff and appearing Monday morning on WGMD Radio News 92.7 FM, along with his wife and John F. Brady, a House Republican attorney who is representing him and also serves as the Sussex County recorder of deeds.

"Kind of an icky situation," said Dan Gaffney, the radio talk-show host.

John Atkins apologized on the air -- "I want to say how sorry I am to the people in my district" -- but offered no more information about the incident beyond what was included in the press release. Heather Atkins barely spoke, except to deny to a caller that her husband had hit her before.

In response to callers' questions, John Atkins told listeners there was no alcohol involved, and he had never hit a woman -- a statement that included his first wife, who was contacted during the radio program and backed him up.

"This is the first time I have ever been arrested," Atkins said. "Just a long day, we're human."

Atkins, 36, was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2002 and is seeking a third term in a rematch Nov. 7 with Democrat Barbara A. Lifflander, who also is running on the ticket of the Independent Party of Delaware. Atkins polled 70 percent of the vote against her in 2004 and appeared to be coasting to re-election before the arrest.

Atkins is the vice chair of the House Public Safety Committee and the chair of the Corrections Committee. He runs a trash collection business. He and his wife have three children.

Here is an account of the incident, according to the press release:

"State Rep. John C. Atkins said he deeply regrets that a family disagreement has risen to the level where it requires public disclosure.

"Rep. Atkins and his wife Heather became involved  in an argument in the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct. 29. Worried that the heated argument might spin out of control, Rep. Atkins dialed 911 with the idea that a police officer could mediate and calm the situation. But after dialing, Rep. Atkins said he had second thoughts about calling an emergency number for a non-emergency situation.

"As a matter of policy, police officers are sent to investigate all 911 calls, even those that hang up before speaking to a dispatcher. Millsboro Police Sgt. Shawn Davis responded to the call and arrived at the Atkins' home at 3:14 a.m.

"After speaking to John and Heather Atkins, Sgt. Davis decided to charge and process Rep. Atkins because he had grabbed his wife's arm during the argument. The charge of 'offensive touching' was lodged over Heather Atkins' objections. . .

"'Even in the best marriages, disagreements occur,' Rep. Atkins said. 'However, I'm deeply embarrassed that the argument I had with my wife rose to the point where the police became involved. I love my family. Heather and I plan to take whatever steps are necessary to make our marriage stronger.'"