Cases of cops accused of sex with student going to grand jury |[7/17/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 18, 2005

The cases of two Vicksburg police officers accused of having sex with a 17-year-old high school girl will be presented to the grand jury this week.

The cases are among 72 to be presented to jurors who convene Monday, District Attorney Gil Martin said.

The student is now a graduate of Vicksburg High School, and one of the officers accused was the resource officer assigned to VHS during the student’s senior year.

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The initial investigation was done by the Vicksburg Police Department’s internal-affairs division, and the city’s board of mayor and aldermen suspended the officer for 20 days on May 13 for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

Announcing the reason for the suspension the next week, Mayor Laurence Leyens said he was advised that any consensual relationship was legal and that city policy contains no explicit ban on such relationships.

Martin has said he has been advised that an officer, who was not assigned to the school, had a sexual relationship with the same girl. That officer has not been disciplined.

A person may legally consent to sex at age 16 but a state law makes it a crime for a person “in a position of trust or authority” over someone not yet 18 to have sex with the minor. The law gives as examples of positions that fit that definition 14 titles, not including that of police officer or school resource officer.

Martin asked the state attorney general’s office for an opinion on handling the case.

It replied June 10 that a school resource officer is in a position “of trust or authority over students in a school to which he is assigned” and that “a police officer who is not assigned as a school-resource officer could be in a position of trust or authority over all citizens of the municipality in which he serves, minors included.”

Martin then requested the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol to take control of investigating the cases.

City officials said they want to change the city’s policies to make sex with a student a fireable offense and that they would ask the Legislature to reword the statute to include police officers, although no new wording could be applied to the two officers here.

The officer has filed no protest of his suspension and city officials have said he will not be reassigned to the school in the fall.

“They spoke with me and several other officers,” Police Chief Tommy Moffett said of investigators from the MHSP.

Among grand juries’ duties is to hear evidence in cases in which people are accused of felony crimes or potential crimes and decide whether enough evidence exists for the cases to proceed to trial. Each panel consists of 18 members, with 12 votes required for it to return an indictment in a case.

The MHSP will present its findings to the grand jury that meets beginning Monday, Martin said. Neither officer has been arrested.

Sexual battery carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Also among cases grand jurors will hear this week is evidence in damage done to vacant Vicksburg Housing Authority houses in northeast Vicksburg in January.

The houses, at 129 Elizabeth Circle and 131 Alcorn Drive, were found burned and with doors and walls damaged on Jan. 9 and 10.

Four men, Darren Mazie, 20, 213 Moonmist Drive; Cedric Garrett, 18, 115A Elizabeth Circle; Reginald Gaines, 18, 168 Elizabeth Circle; and David McFelt, 18, 2220 Short Main St.; are charged with felony malicious mischief, burglary and second-degree arson, VPD records show.

In evidence in a violent crime to be presented this week, Derrick Romone Hall, 24, 1201 South St., is accused of breaking through a door to the home of Donald Nabours, 24, and shooting him once in the chest on May 22. Hall was arrested the next day on a charge of aggravated assault. He had been indicted for kidnapping here about eight-and-a-half months earlier and is being held without bond. Records show he also faces a Vicksburg charge of attempted armed robbery of the same victim and that he was on probation in Louisiana when he was arrested on the new charge.

In addition to cases investigated by local law enforcement agencies this week’s grand jury is to hear eight cases from the the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and one each from the Mississippi Gaming Commission and Kansas City Southern Railroad, Martin said.

Judge Isadore Patrick will preside, and the panel is expected to complete its work Thursday afternoon, Martin added. The panel will be the third of four to be convened this year, with the next term set to begin Oct. 17.