Civil Service to decide ex-cop’s fate in 10 days|[9/16/06]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Civil Service Commission will decide within 10 days whether a former Vicksburg police officer acquitted of sexual battery in June will be reinstated, its chairman said Friday following an appellate hearing.

Vicksburg’s Mayor and Board of Aldermen voted 2-1 July 19 to deny reinstatement to Anthony Lane, 29, after a Warren County Circuit Court jury of four men and eight women said Lane’s sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student while he was assigned to Vicksburg High School did not amount to sexual battery under state law.

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

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Separately, commissioners said they will conduct a hearing Sept. 26 on whether a second officer indicted for sexual battery after having sex with the same teen will be reinstated to the position from which he was fired.

The criminal charge against Bobby Jones, 32, was dropped at the advice of District Attorney Gil Martin after Lane was acquitted.

In a motion to dismiss, Martin wrote that &#8220the jury verdict indicates that the jury did not find the defendant to be in a position of trust or authority as required by the statute.”

Vicksburg’s Mayor and Board of Aldermen voted in July to deny reinstatement to Jones and Lane after a Warren County Circuit Court jury of four men and eight women found Lane not guilty.

Jones was not assigned to a school, but grand jurors still chose to send him to trial on charges under the battery statute that raises the age of consent from 16 to 18 if the adult is &#8220in a position of trust or authority.” The code section lists several example roles, including teacher and counselor, but does not include police officer.

Mayor Laurence Leyens and South Ward Aldermen Sid Beauman voted in favor of the terminations. North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield dissented.

The commission is a three-person council appointed by the city board and charged with keeping politics out of hirings, firings, promotions and transfers in police and fire departments. If the panel decides any decision was not related to job performance, decisions of city officials may be modified or reversed.

Appeals from commission rulings are to circuit court.

Lane’s attorney, Ramel Cotton of Jackson, argued Friday his client is a victim of &#8220double jeopardy.” City attorney Nancy Thomas told commissioners Lane should not be given his job back because he lost the public’s trust.

&#8220It violates the principle of double jeopardy,” Cotton said. &#8220Can the city discipline Mr. Lane twice for the same act? It was only done for political reasons.”

Double jeopardy is the legal term for being tried twice for the same offense. Lane was tried once but suspended twice.

For the previous 11 months leading to trial, he had been on administrative leave without pay. That followed an internal 20-day suspension after Chief Tommy Moffett learned of Lane’s relationship with the student in 2004.

&#8220The second suspension was based solely on the (July 2005) indictment,” Cotton said. &#8220Now, there’s no basis for the second suspension. We ask the board to overturn Mr. Lane’s termination.”

Cotton is also seeking back pay for Lane.

He argued repeatedly Friday that Lane was a political victim because city officials terminated him after his acquittal.

&#8220At a hearing, they decided to terminate Mr. Lane because of ‘conduct unbecoming an officer and losing the public’s trust,’” Cotton said. &#8220They were terminating Mr. Lane for ‘the act.’ But it is our argument that the mayor and board of aldermen were prohibited from doing that because of double jeopardy.”

Thomas, though, said city officials used restraint when they did not fire him in 2005.

&#8220On indictment, the city had the authority to terminate Mr. Lane,” she said. &#8220However, the city didn’t do that. We never promised he would come back to work. We told him we’d wait and see.”

The only witnesses who testified in Friday’s hearing were Moffett and Lamar Horton, the city’s human resources director. Thomas asked both to talk about the media attention and public outcry brought by Lane’s trial and termination.

&#8220The community was outraged,” she said. &#8220It was an item of tremendous concern to the public. It was in the newspapers, it seemed like, every day.”

Horton and Moffett testified they read news stories daily about the trial and were on the receiving end of &#8220hundreds” of complaints about Lane’s indictment.

Thomas said the publicity and Lane’s termination were justified.

&#8220We can’t trust him with our children and at our schools, and that was his job. The consequence of the indictment is why we’re here today. We need to decide whether he can appropriately fulfill the responsibilities of a police officer at the Vicksburg Police Department.”

But Moffett repeated Friday a portion of his trial testimony, holding firm on his position that he does not believe Lane committed a crime by having a sexual relationship with a student.

&#8220I felt he violated (department) policy, not law,” he said.

During trial, Moffett testified he does not believe state law defines people serving under him as &#8220persons of trust or authority.”

But Assistant District Attorney John Bullard told jurors that &#8220whether a person is in a position of trust or authority is determined by the factual situation.” An opinion letter from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, requested by District Attorney Martin, said the same and sparked the prosecution.

Later Friday, Moffett clarified his remarks about the state statute.

&#8220I don’t waiver from the fact it should be against the law,” he said. &#8220No grown man should do that.”

If commissioners reinstate Lane, Moffett said, he will not be allowed to serve as a school resource officer.

In two other cases, the commission scheduled appellate hearings for former police officers Robert Donahue and Adarryl Dent Sr. for Sept. 22 and Oct. 20, respectively, at 9 a.m.