Two officers won’t be put back on force|[6/24/06]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 24, 2006

Vicksburg officials voted 2-1 Friday not to reinstate two city police officers indicted for sexual battery of a high school student.

&#8220This was a morals issue, not just a criminal issue,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said after the vote in which he and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman voted in executive session against reinstating Anthony Lane, 29, and Bobby Jones, 32.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield dissented, Leyens said, because &#8220he believed that in light of the jury’s verdict to acquit, both should be rehired.” Mayfield could not be reached independently.

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On June 14, a jury in Warren County Circuit Court found Lane innocent of sexual battery. The jury of four men and eight women said his relationship with a 17-year-old student while he was assigned to Vicksburg High School was not a criminal act under state law.

On Thursday, District Attorney Gil Martin filed with the court a request to drop the indictment against Jones, the case Martin said was the weaker of the two.

Lane was acquitted after the girl, now a graduate, testified she initiated the relationship with the school resource officer and Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett testified, though he had suspended Lane for 20 days after hearing of the relationship, he did not believe state law defines people serving under him as &#8220persons of trust or authority.”

The case against Lane centered on a state law that defines sexual battery to include an adult having sex with a 16- or 17-year-old if the adult is in a &#8220position of trust or authority.” It lists 16 roles, but doesn’t include &#8220police officer.”

After his vote Friday, Leyens said, &#8220I can’t expect the public to have the kind of trust they need to have in the police department if these two are put back on the force.

&#8220They may well be good at police work, but with this they don’t demonstrate what the community expects in a police officer,” he said.

The officers may appeal the City Board decision to the Civil Service Commission, which is charged with keeping politics out of hirings and firings in the police and fire departments,.

&#8220I fully expect that the Civil Service Commission might reverse us,” Leyens said.

Reached Friday night, Moffett said he has no opinion on whether the officers should have been re-instated.

&#8220It was a decision to be made by the mayor and board of aldermen, and they made it,” he said.

A conviction of Lane could have resulted in a 30-year prison term.

The officers had been on administrative leave without pay for nearly 11 months.

Separately, the Vicksburg Alliance for Good Government will rally at noon Monday at City Hall to call for Moffett’s termination.

Earnest McBride, the organization’s chairman, said in a press release that Vicksburg residents will &#8220give vent to their anguish at Police Chief Tommy Moffett for declaring that police officers serving under him are not ‘persons of trust or authority.’.

&#8220Tommy Moffett’s sworn testimony that Vicksburg policemen during his 4 1/2-year reign have not been persons of trust or authority should be taken at face value and should be used as just cause for his immediate termination by the mayor and aldermen of the City of Vicksburg,” McBride said.

Leyens dismissed McBride’s statements. &#8220I don’t have any respect for Earnest McBride. He had two rallies last year for which nobody showed up, and it’s pretty clear the community is not interested in what Mr. McBride says.”