Commission upholds city’s decision to fire officer|[9/23/06]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 23, 2006

A 2-1 vote by Vicksburg officials to fire a police officer who had been indicted based on a consensual sexual relationship with a 17-year-old has been upheld 3-0 by the Civil Service Commission.

A written opinion issued Friday found, &#8220The disciplinary action taken against Patrolman Anthony Lane was in good faith and good cause.”

It went on to say it had not been disputed that Lane, 29, had sexual relations with the girl who was a student at Vicksburg High School where he was assigned as a resource officer.

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A trial jury acquitted Lane of a charge of sexual battery. While 16 is Mississippi’s age of legal consent, a statute raises that age to 18 when an adult is &#8220in a position of trust or authority” over the teen.

Lane’s attorney had argued the city by suspending Lane initially and then voting to fire him after he was found innocent had punished him twice or imposed unconstitutional double jeopardy.

The three members of the commission took that and other testimony under advisement after Lane’s Sept. 15 hearing and promised a ruling within 11 days.

Appeals from commission rulings are to circuit court.

After the vote by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen on July 19 to deny reinstatement to Lane, Mayor Laurence Leyens and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said that even without criminal liability Lane’s actions were incompatible with him continuing to be a police officer.

Police Chief Tommy Moffett, who testified he doesn’t think the sexual battery statute applies to Lane, has, however, joined others suggesting the law be amended to include &#8220police officer” by the 2007 Mississippi Legislature. A conviction could have resulted in a 30-year prison term.

Lane’s attorney, Ramel Cotton of Jackson, was also seeking back pay for Lane for the 11 months since his suspension.

Moffett declined comment on the ruling Friday. Neither Cotton nor Leyens could be reached.

Assistant District Attorney John Bullard had 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 Gil Martin, said the same and sparked the prosecution.

&#8220We recognize that the matter was probably mishandled by the city and district attorney,” the commission wrote, &#8220but that does not remove the uncontested fact that appellant violated his oath of office and committed acts unbecoming a civil servant.”

A second officer, Bobby Jones, was also indicted for having a consensual relationship with the same teen. The indictment was formally dropped after Jones was acquitted, in part because Jones was not assigned to any duties at Vicksburg High.

Jones, 32, also fired, is to present his appeal to the Civil Service Commission on Tuesday.