Posted: Dec. 18, 2006
THAT'S REPRESENTATIVE ATKINS TO YOU, OFFICER
By Celia Cohen
If the Ocean City police officers had happened to miss the gold legislative license plate when they pulled over state Rep. John C. Atkins -- which they had not -- he was ready with his legislative identification card during a stop in Maryland in the early morning hours Sunday before Halloween.
He also told them, if he had too much to drink to drive, he could get a Delaware state trooper to come get him.
The officers, a veteran and a rookie, had clocked Atkins at 12 miles over the 40 mile-an-hour limit on Coastal Highway. They had seen his pickup truck weaving. They gave him a test that showed he would be better off with a designated driver. So would his wife Heather, who was with him.
What happened? They let him go. "Non-reportable offense," they called it.
Atkins, a three-term Millsboro Republican, was in Ocean City in the hours before he was arrested by Millsboro police for grabbing his wife's arm while arguing with her at their home.
Atkins did not own up to the Ocean City incident that preceded his arrest until Delaware Grapevine wrote about it some five weeks after the fact, when the Ocean City police confirmed the stop, although they withheld their official report as confidential evidence before Atkins had his day in court.
Atkins case was heard Dec. 4. He was placed on probation and entered a first offenders' program for domestic violence in a plea agreement that will clear his record of an offensive touching charge if he stays out of trouble for a year.
The Ocean City police released their report Friday, with WGMD Radio News 92.7 FM in Sussex County the first to obtain it.
Regardless of the legislative tag on the pickup, the legislative ID and the mention of the Delaware trooper, Atkins denied his intent was to use political pull to get out of a bad spot. "Not at all," he said.
The Ocean City police denied that politics had something to do with letting Atkins go, not when the senior officer was Douglas A. Smith, their ace of drunken-driving cases.
"I can't imagine. He has been a multiple award-winner of the MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] program. Doug Smith is very vigilant," said Barry Neeb, the public information officer for the Ocean City police. "That was a normal course of action. In their mind it was probably a borderline case."
Meanwhile, the voters were denied an opportunity to decide for themselves whether politics was involved, because information about the Ocean City stop could not be unearthed before the election. What happened in Maryland stayed in Maryland.
John and Heather Atkins' evening across the line featured a Halloween party at Seacrets, an Ocean City nightclub and restaurant, according to the report filed by Smith and Officer Natalie R. Smolko.
As part of the festivities, Atkins says he and Heather were wearing costumes, although he was unwilling to say what they were. They were still in them when the police waved the pickup down for speeding and weaving at 1:22 on the morning of Oct. 29.
"Atkins had his license and another card in his hand available when he put down the window. I observed a Delaware license belonging to Atkins, as well as a laminated card that stated Atkins was a Delaware state representative," Smolko wrote in her account.
"I noted that Atkins had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath and person. I noted that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. I noted that his speech, however, was not slurred or choppy. I noted that Atkins did not appear to be highly intoxicated, but I suspected . . . that he might not be safe to drive," Smith wrote.
Smith asked Atkins to take a preliminary breath test to see whether he was over the legal limit of .08 for drinking and driving. "I advised him that he would not be arrested. I advised him that if he blew over, he would be able to call for a ride. Atkins agreed to take the PBT. I administered the test and noted that the result was a .14," Smith wrote.
Smolko wrote what happened next: "Atkins stated immediately that he could get a Delaware state trooper to come pick him up."
Instead, Smith gave the test to Heather Atkins, but she was in no better shape. "I noted the female passenger blew a .16," Smith wrote.
The officers let Atkins phone for a ride. He says he did not call a trooper but a friend whom he knew was in Ocean City -- a 26-year-old Dagsboro house builder whose name he prefers to keep private.
Twenty minutes after the stop, the Ocean City police were shed of Atkins. An hour and a half later, the Millsboro police had him -- when they answered a 911 hang-up call Atkins said he made and then changed his mind.
Similar to the situation with the Ocean City police, the Millsboro police released some information about the arrest but have declined to date to make their full report public, although Delaware Grapevine has asked for it.
That is the way Atkins wants it. "I'm not releasing the Millsboro report," he said.