Dismissal filed in sex abuse suit vs. ex-Sussex councilman Phillips

Vance Phillips

Vance Phillips

WILMINGTON — Attorneys filed court papers Tuesday agreeing to dismiss a lawsuit in which a young woman claimed that she was repeatedly sexually abused by a former Republican Sussex County councilman.

The stipulation of dismissal was filed in Kent County Superior Court in a civil action filed against Vance Phillips by Katelynn Breana Dunlap.

Dunlap claimed Phillips had repeatedly sexually assaulted her after encouraging her to become involved in politics. The lawsuit alleged that he forced sex on her several times starting in May 2011, a few weeks after she turned 18, and included graphic details involving bondage and sex toys during alleged encounters in Kent and Sussex counties.

The complaint also said Phillips warned Dunlap not to tell anyone, boasting in a text message that he was “a powerful politician with lots of power over the courts and judges.”

According to Tuesday’s court filing, neither party accepts or admits responsibility or wrongdoing for the dismissed claims, which included assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness. Attorneys agreed in a separate filing last week to dismiss a claim that Phillips had violated various criminal statutes, including rape, unlawful sexual contact, sexual extortion and unlawful imprisonment.

Defense attorney Kurt Heyman said the stipulated dismissal did not include any payment by Phillips, and that Phillips, who lost a re-election bid in 2014, was happy to have the case behind him.

“It’s a complete dismissal with prejudice,” Heyman said. “We’re hoping that everyone can go on with their lives happily ever after at this point.”

Attorneys for Dunlap did not immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment.

Delaware State Police investigated Phillips in 2012 after members of the General Assembly received an anonymous letter claiming he was involved in a relationship with an underage girl. No criminal charges were ever filed, but Phillips invoked his rights against self-incrimination in the civil action after the lawsuit was filed in May 2013.

Last year, a judge rejected a request by Dunlap’s attorneys to find Phillips liable because he had not explicitly denied the allegations. The judge ruled that Phillips had properly invoked his right against self-incrimination, and that summary judgment was improper because of Dunlap’s inconsistent statements.

The judge noted that Dunlap had claimed in her lawsuit that she was a victim of rape, but denied being a rape victim when interviewed by police. He also pointed to a deposition in the lawsuit in which she admitted telling a detective that the sex acts with Phillips were consensual.

In arguing against summary judgment for Dunlap, Heyman alleged she also kept returning to Phillips after the alleged abuse began and that phone records show she continued to initiate contact with him afterward.

Brian Brittingham, an attorney for Dunlap, argued that she never claimed the sex was consensual, and that she had explained the inconsistencies in some of her accounts, which Brittingham suggested were the result of fear, shame and threats from Phillips.

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