Former legislator John Atkins entered a guilty plea Aug. 17 and remains incarcerated until he receives an electronic GPS device.
Atkins pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and three counts of breach of release in Sussex County court. The Millsboro resident originally faced felony strangulation, which was dropped, in connection with a July 12 fight involving his girlfriend. His charges are now misdemeanors.
“This resolution was reached after prosecutors thoroughly reviewed available evidence and consulted with the victim, who agreed to it,” said Julia Lawes, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.
Atkins was sentenced to time served, which was 22 days in prison, and one year of probation, but will be held at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna until an electronic GPS device can be assigned to him, she said.
Once released, Lawes said, Atkins’ physical location will be monitored by GPS during his probation to ensure that he has no further contact with the victim. He is also required to undergo substance abuse and mental health evaluations, follow any recommended treatment and attend domestic violence counseling.
By law, Lawes said, this plea prohibits Atkins from possessing firearms for five years, and Delaware State Police will seize any firearms he possesses.
“This result provides protection and some certainty for the victim and, at the same time, deploys available resources to address Atkins’ behavior,” she said.
'Could not breathe'
During the original incident, court documents state Atkins was at Indian River Inlet with his girlfriend when she received a text message from her ex-boyfriend. Atkins became angry, and he put his hands around her neck, court records state.
“John put his hands on her neck and squeezed to the point that she could not breathe,” records state.
The girlfriend told police she tried to get away, but was hit under her eye. “There was a noticeable red mark under [her] eye as well as red marks around her neck consistent with [her] story,” records state.
The woman told police she got away from Atkins, left the beach and took an Uber home. When she arrived home, records state, Atkins was waiting for her. The two argued and Atkins smacked her hat, causing it to hit her nose, records state.
He was released with a no-contact order.
On July 27, Delaware State Police arrested and charged Atkins with three counts of noncompliance with conditions of recognizance bond and for continuous felony for having a nine-minute conversation with the victim, leaving a voicemail on the victim’s phone and being within 100 yards of her residence.
Court records state the victim told police Atkins contacted her July 24 from a blocked number. In a 9-minute phone call, Atkins pleaded with her to take him back, court records show. Police say later that day, Atkins again called from the blocked number. When the victim did not answer, Atkins left a voicemail stating that he was stuck on a deck and needed her help.
Court records state after she received this message, the victim learned from a neighbor that Atkins was trying to rent an apartment across the street from her, less than 100 yards away, violating the no-contact order. The victim told police her neighbor said Atkins had entered her apartment when she was not home, records show.
Court records also state Atkins told police that the victim called him. He admitted to calling her July 24 and to leaving a message stating he was stuck on a deck and needed help. Records state Atkins told police he looked at an apartment across the street from the victim, and that he purchased a prepaid flip phone in Florida to contact the victim, stating it was her idea.
Also on July 27, Lewes police obtained a warrant for Atkins’ arrest on harassment and noncompliance with conditions of his bond.
Atkins was first taken to Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown July 27 in default of $18,000 cash bail for the Delaware State Police charges and also $5,500 secured bond for the Lewes Police Department charges. Later that day, he was transferred to the pretrial section of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
Prison officials would not say why Atkins was transferred because it is not public information.
“Inmates in our custody can be moved for various reasons including operational need, safety of inmate, safety of other inmates/officers, or access to programming and education,” said Jayme Gravell, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction.
A history of domestic disputes
In 2016, prosecutors dropped charges against Atkins following a domestic dispute. Offensive touching and criminal mischief charges were dropped after a prosecutor determined there was insufficient evidence to move forward with the case, officials at the time said.
Police pressed charges after a 38-year-old woman, Atkins’ ex-girlfriend, called 911 when an argument between the two turned physical. She told police she gave Atkins permission to remove property from her Lewes residence, and they began arguing after she got home, and he had removed other items. She jumped into Atkins' truck and began striking property in his vehicle. Atkins then pushed the woman against her vehicle and kicked her vehicle, causing damage before he left in his truck, police said.
In 2014, Atkins lost his seat as state representative for District 41, covering Millsboro, Dagsboro, Frankford and Selbyville, to Richard Collins by 352 votes. In 2012, Atkins beat Collins by 69 votes.
Atkins' former wife filed a restraining order against him in June 2014 because she said she was scared for her safety.
At the time, Millsboro police confiscated 17 firearms from Atkins' home.
The couple had a history of domestic issues. In 2006, Atkins, who was a Republican at the time, was stopped in Ocean City for suspected driving under the influence and a few hours later was charged with offensive touching in connection with an argument with his wife.
He resigned his seat but was re-elected in 2008, running as a Democrat.