OCEAN CITY – The saga of beleaguered Delaware Representative John C. Atkins continued this week when Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) officials flip-flopped their former approval of the Ocean City Police Department’s handling of an October traffic stop in the resort when the rirst state lawmaker was suspected of drunk driving.
A Delaware House of Representatives Ethics Committee last week issued a ruling Atkins violated the House’s rules of conduct and brought the legislative body into “disrepute” with his actions before and after the traffic stop in Ocean City during which he repeatedly made it known to resort officers he was a Delaware elected official in an apparent effort to gain leniency from them.
Atkins was ultimately allowed to call friends in Delaware to give him and his wife a ride home, even after he registered a .14 on a roadside preliminary breath test (PBT) taken after Atkins had been told he was not going to be arrested in the case. The Ethics Committee report released last week revealed Atkins later drove his own car home after crossing over into Delaware.
The incident, which began with the traffic stop in Ocean City and ended with Atkins being arrested at his Millsboro home for an offensive touching complaint filed by his wife following an argument, triggered a controversy on several fronts. The OCPD came under fire initially for appearing to use favoritism in its handling of Atkins during the traffic stop, but a subsequent internal investigation by the department concluded 10-year OCPD veteran and DWI specialist Doug Smith and the female trainee he was working with did everything by the book.
MADD officials were not so sure and requested a meeting with OCPD Chief Bernadette DiPino to review the events surrounding the traffic stop. After meeting with DiPino, Smith and others, MADD officials concluded the traffic stop was handled properly by resort police. This week, however, MADD reversed its prior approval of the department’s handling of the case and issued a scathing statement contrary to its original approval following the report released by the ethics committee last week.
The comments made by MADD Chesapeake Region Executive Director Caroline Cash this week are in sharp contrast to the feel-good remarks she made following her meeting with OCPD officials following the incident.
In January, Cash said after that meeting, “We’re satisfied the OCPD was completely thorough in the investigation of this case. We know Ocean City did what they were supposed to according to the letter of the law. The problem in this case is that the law is flawed in Maryland.”
However, in a formal statement this week after the ethics committee findings were released, Cash said, “Due to new information surrounding the traffic stop of Representative Atkins, we do not believe proper investigative procedure for a suspected drunk driver was followed. Specifically that the standardized field sobriety tests should have been performed given the reasonable suspicion that the officer had for the offense of driving while intoxicated.”
Similarly, MADD Regional Operations Council Chairman Joe Sykes said in January following the meeting with OCPD officials, “After checking with other law enforcement experts and listening to Pfc. Smith, we concluded that the stop was conducted completely by the book.”
However, the MADD statement released this week stated, “We have determined that field sobriety testing should have occurred at the traffic stop on October 29. MADD aims to visit with them further about this as it appears to go against generally accepted law enforcement procedures.”
There was no indication this week if and when another meeting between the OCPD and MADD would occur. OCPD public information officer Barry Neeb said there would be no formal response from the department.