City suspends pair accused of sex with student|[7/22/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 22, 2005

After one initially received a suspension and the other no punishment, the two Vicksburg police officers accused of having consensual sex with a 17-year-old high school girl are now formally charged with felonies and suspended from their jobs without pay.

Bobby Jones, 31, and Anthony Levell Lane, 28, both face trial in 11 months – and, if convicted, up to 30 years in prison.

“The time I’ve been here they’ve done an outstanding job up until this particular situation,” Police Chief Tommy Moffett said of the two five-year patrolmen. “I couldn’t ask for better.”

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Jones and Lane, indicted by grand jurors under the state’s sexual battery statute, entered pleas of innocent Thursday and were released on $10,000 bonds. Judge Isadore Patrick set June 12 as their trial date, although the cases may be prosecuted separately.

Moffett has said the investigation began with a police employee reporting hearing of the officers’ relationships with the girl, then a student at Vicksburg High School.

When it was confirmed, Lane, who was working as a school resource officer, was handed a 20-day suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer. Jones, not assigned to school duties, was not reprimanded.

At the time, city officials said that while they were distraught, the state’s statutory rape law makes the age of consent 16, meaning that there was no crime if there was no force. Moffett also said no personnel policy specifically addressed what the officers were accused of doing.

However, a separate statute, defining sexual battery, makes consensual sex a crime when one person is in a “position of trust or authority.”

The statute lists 14 such positions, but says its list is not meant to be complete. District Attorney Gil Martin requested and received in May an advisory opinion for the Attorney General’s Office saying a police officer could be a “position of trust” within the meaning of the statute. The case was presented to grand jurors earlier this week.

Jones was represented by attorney Marshall Sanders and Lane, by attorney Ramel Cotton. They made no statements, nor did their attorneys.

After the arraignments, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to suspend both officers without pay pending the outcome of the trail sometime next year. Mayor Laurence Leyens said that if convicted the officers will be fired, but if they are not convicted both could possibly return to duty.

“There’s no question in my mind that these officers’ choices do not represent the standard we have set in the police department, but it is unclear to me if they have broken state law,” Leyens said.

Leyens also asked the public to contact state representatives and ask that the law be changed.

“Legally, we cannot regulate through policy our morality beyond state law,” Leyens said.

Following the arraignments, Moffett said he did not know whether he would recommend any rule changes, but added that the attorney general’s opinion was “crystal clear” with respect to the position of school-resource officer and that officers in the future could learn from that.

“It’s a matter of making the information available,” Moffett said. “The law speaks for itself. We can’t write a rule for every law.”

One police officer each, known as a school resource officer, is assigned to Vicksburg High School and Vicksburg and Warren Central junior high schools, the three public schools at or above the junior-high level that are inside the city limits. Lane was reassigned in the spring, shortly before the school year ended. He had worked there from August 2003 until around early May.

The girl graduated from VHS and turned 18 in May. The indictments accuse Lane of having sex with her around June 2004 and Jones around November 2004. The alleged activity took place at her home, Martin said Thursday.

After receiving the opinion letter June 10, Martin asked for and received investigation by the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol and investigators from that agency presented their findings to this week’s grand jury.

To return an indictment at least 12 of 18 grand jurors must vote that enough evidence exists for a case to proceed to trial on a particular charge.

A motion had been filed with the court to allow television cameras in the courtroom for the reading of the indictment, but Patrick denied the request, saying that the motion had not been filed 48 hours before the arraignment, as required in Supreme Court rules.