Police still may face charges for sex with student|[5/27/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 27, 2005

Two Vicksburg police officers accused of having sex with a 17-year-old high school student could face criminal charges as people in positions of trust, depending on what an opinion being sought from the Attorney General’s Office says.

District Attorney Gil Martin said Thursday a state statute on the topic doesn’t appear to apply, but he’ll ask for guidance from the state’s chief attorney.

Mississippi Code 97-3-95 says a person who engages in sex with someone under 18 can be charged with sexual battery if the person is in a position of trust or authority over the minor.

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The section goes on to define 14 specific positions of trust or authority, including teacher, counselor, physician, minister, Scout leader and coach. It does not list law enforcement officers.

“To the layman it’s obvious that it was (sexual battery), but the statute is pretty strict,” Martin said.

One 28-year-old police officer assigned to Vicksburg High School where his duties included providing security and mentoring students was suspended by city officials earlier this month for 20 days on the basis of “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

Mayor Laurence Leyens has said he wanted the officer fired, but was told there was no law or rule on which to base termination.

The teenage girl with whom the officer was said to have had a sexual relationship last fall was a senior at the high school and graduated this year. She was also reportedly involved more recently with a second officer, but that officer was not assigned to the schools, and no disciplinary action was taken.

Because the girl was 17 years old, the officers were not charged under the state’s law regarding consent. That law says a person is competent to consent to a sexual relationship at 16.

The Attorney General’s Office provides written opinions to Mississippi government agencies, counties and cities, but those opinions are not binding. A judge would still have to decide if the sexual battery law can apply to the police officers if charges are filed.

Martin said he could not say if he plans to seek those charges.

“We’ll have to wait and see what they say,” Martin said.

Sexual battery is a felony and carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison.

The City of Vicksburg is also working on changes to the police department’s personnel policies that would make having sex with a student a fireable offense.

The officer suspended for 20 days has worked for the police department for nearly five years and had been at Vicksburg High School as a resource officer for at least one school year.