Woman files lawsuit against Councilman Vance Phillips

Accuses Sussex County official of sexual attacks
May 14, 2013
Sussex County Councilman Vance Phillips SOURCE SUSSEX COUNTY

A lawsuit against Sussex County Councilman Vance Phillips has been filed by a young woman who says he forced her to have sex with him.

Katelynn Breana Dunlap, 20, of Lincoln is demanding a jury trial against Phillips, who she said sexually attacked and molested her on 10 separate occasions shortly after she turned 18 years old.

She filed a 17-page civil suit against Phillips on May 6 in Kent County Superior Court; she is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Delaware State Police and the Attorney General's Office investigated Phillips last summer after an anonymous letter circulated throughout Legislative Hall in Dover alleging inappropriate behavior by him and a young woman. No criminal charges were filed against Phillips by either agency following the investigation.

"The Department of Justice determined after a careful review of the evidence gathered through the investigation that a prosecution could not be pursued,” said Jason Miller, Attorney General's Office spokesman. "The Delaware State Police conducted a thorough investigation. We are unable to comment on the details of the investigation and we have no comment about the allegations raised in the civil complaint."

Phillips made a brief comment before forwarding questions to his attorney, Joseph Hurley.

“In light of the seriousness of the allegations and the potential for many innocent people to be hurt, I have to be careful with how I speak to this very sad situation,” Phillips said. “In the meantime, I will continue to serve my constituents, work on the farm and focus on my health as it relates to my spinal cord injury. I look forward to the truth coming out.

"I would also like to say how thankful I am for all the words of encouragement that I've been getting from the public in the last few days. I'm very humbled by it,” Phillips added.


Attorney: Case will end up in court

Hurley said in many civil suits, negotiations take place to reach a settlement before the case goes to trial; he doesn't see that action taking place. He said an extremely high demand was made by the plaintiff's attorney. “That ended negotiations very quickly and there will not be further negotiations,” Hurley said. “They thought they could get a lot of money out of this.”

Hurley said depositions will be scheduled with Phillips and the plaintiff testifying under oath with a trial taking place sometime in 2014 or 2015; civil suit cases move slowly through the system, the attorney said.

Hurley said the lawsuit was filed because no criminal charges were filed by the state against Phillips. “They [the plaintiff and her attorney] watched the way the game unfolded and it didn't turn out the way they wanted,” Hurley said. “The state wouldn't do it for them so they are getting out on the field and doing it themselves.”

Phillips retained Hurley after the June 2012 anonymous letter was sent to legislators and state officials.

At that time, Hurley called the letter writer “Georgetown bin Laden.” Hurley challenged the anonymous letter writer to produce evidence.

Hurley said the lawsuit is an attack on Phillips' reputation. He said the fact that Phillips is a very spiritual man has helped him endure the situation.

“This all comes down to her word,” Hurley said, adding that an investigation by police didn't result in a grand jury hearing.

Dunlap’s attorney, Nicholas H. Rodriguez, declined to comment, citing rules of conduct that prohibit him from making any statement about the case.

Lawsuit alleges sexual crimes

The lawsuit states Dunlap and Phillips developed a relationship in 2010 while they worked together on a political campaign when she 16; at the time, she looked up to Phillips as her superior and thought him honest and trustworthy.

"When the campaign ended in November of 2010 after traveling with defendant on many political encounters and affairs, she continued to see him on a regular basis, regarding him as her superior and as a completely close friend and advisor," the lawsuit states.

This relationship continued as Dunlap approached 18; on occasion the lawsuit states Phillips would hug her. She felt the contact was unusual and sometimes resisted, she said in the lawsuit.

Phillips was 48 years old when Dunlap turned 18, the lawsuit states.

About a month after Dunlap turned 18, the relationship took a dramatically sexual turn in which Dunlap met Phillips 10 times at several different locations that started in May 2011 and continued through July, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, on May 9, 2011, after a GOP meeting, he asked Dunlap to meet him in a parking lot of a Georgetown dentist office. She met him there where he tried to have sex with her but she was able to push him away, the lawsuit states. Phillips threatened her with violence if Dunlap did not drive to a back road area near the Georgetown Walmart, according to the lawsuit.

Once they arrived, Phillips told her never to tell anyone what happened and if she did her life would be ruined. A sexual encounter ensued, the lawsuit states, and he threatened her if she told anyone.

About a week later, he texted her and demanded she meet him at his farm in Laurel. She did and once inside a farmhouse, he had sexual intercourse with her, according to the lawsuit.

Phillips continued to threaten Dunlap with "a world of hurt" if she did not meet him at the farmhouse; she continued to do so two more times over a couple of weeks. The suit states the encounters involved bondage and painful sex.

During the last meeting at the farmhouse, she was threatened again, according to the lawsuit.

About a week and a half later, Phillips intercepted Dunlap as she drove to a job in Dover. He made her go to the Greenwood Motel where he became physical but she was able to escape, the lawsuit states.

Then, around July 4, 2011, Dunlap told Phillips she might be pregnant and he showed up at a church function with a pregnancy kit. The test turned out negative, according to the lawsuit.

Soon after, he intercepted her on her way to work and made go to a deserted road northeast of Milford. There, he forced her to have sex, the lawsuit states. A couple of days later, he showed up at her work and told her to meet him at the Super 8 Motel in Dover. Inside the hotel room, he allegedly used ropes, clamps, chains and sex toys, according to the lawsuit.

This went on for a couple of hours until he let her up and let her go with the same threats that he had reiterated so many times previously, the lawsuit states.

Several days later, they were back at the motel where he cried and told her he was sorry for everything he did; they ate pizza and talked, and Dunlap left, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states Phillips visited Dunlap a couple of times while she was at college "but she was careful to have the meetings in a public place where he was unable to have any physical contact with her."

Dunlap contends in the lawsuit that she suffered severe and serious physical, mental and emotional injuries that she continues to suffer. She has spent money for medical, psychological and emotional treatment; her education and career in business and politics have been affected by her relationship with Phillips.

So are her plans for marriage and raising a family and her relationships with friends and family, the lawsuit states.

For those reasons, the lawsuit concludes, Dunlap demands compensation and punitive damages, including pre- and post-judgment interest and costs.


Phillips has been on council since 1998

Phillips, a Republican, has served on Sussex County Council since 1998 and is council’s second-most senior member. He has served two terms as council president.

A graduate of the University of Delaware, Phillips is a sixth-generation farmer and lifelong Sussex resident who lives and farms near Laurel. He was recently presented the Individual Freedom Award by the Positive Growth Alliance.

Phillips had been the subject of another investigation that did not result in charges. Sussex County Sheriff Jeff Christopher filed a complaint against Phillips following an Oct. 26, 2011, meeting between the two at Sussex GOP headquarters in downtown Georgetown. Christopher claimed Phillips hit him in the eye with a notepad and kicked him in the groin.

After an investigation, the Delaware Attorney General's Office ruled it would not file charges.

Four days after the incident, Phillips was injured in a ultra-light plane crash and missed more than two months of council meetings. He suffered a severe spinal injury Oct. 30 when his aircraft crashed on his solo flight in Amherst County, Va., near Lynchburg. He returned to council chambers Jan. 3.

Phillips continues to recuperate from the crash.