Fired officer appealing panel ruling|[10/18/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A police officer who was fired after having conensual sex with a Vicksburg High School student has appealed a review panel’s upholding of his termination.

Anthony Lane, 29, has appealed to Warren County Circuit Court a Sept. 22 ruling against him by the Vicksburg Civil Service Commission.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the case had not been assigned to a judge, said a spokesman for the Warren County Circuit Clerk’s Office.

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The appeal was filed Monday by Lane’s attorney, Ramel Cotton of Jackson. It questions five things – &#8220whether the proper procedures were followed in the termination of (Lane)”; &#8220whether the commission properly found that (Lane) failed to satisfy his burden of proof by either testimony or written materials”; &#8220whether the commission properly found that the disciplinary action was made in good faith and for cause and not due to any political or religious reasons”; &#8220whether the decision of the commission was … contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence and authority”; and &#8220whether the decision of the commission violated double jeopardy.”

In July 2005, Lane, who worked at Vicksburg High as a school-resource officer, was indicted on a sexual battery charge. He has been off the police force since that day. The case went to a jury trial in June, and Lane was acquitted.

In a 2-1 vote July 19, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen declined to reinstate Lane, as well as another officer, 32-year-old Bobby Jones, who was accused of having consensual sex with the same girl. North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield dissented.

Both fired officers appealed to the Civil Service Commission.

Testimony in Lane’s trial revealed his relationship with the girl happened around June 2004, when she was a 17-year-old student at Vicksburg High.

When Police Chief Tommy Moffett learned of the relationship, he recommended Lane be suspended for 20 days, an action approved by the city board and served by Lane.

The Civil Service Commission’s Sept. 22 decision in Lane’s appeal says the city fired Lane because his &#8220conduct was unbecoming of a police officer, that by virtue of his indictment and resulting trial and testimony given in that trial, (Lane) had lost the trust and respect of the public, and that he had violated his oath” of office.

The other officer, Jones, was accused of having a sexual relationship with the same girl around November 2004, during her senior year and before her 18th birthday. Jones was assigned to no school. Moffett recommended no punishment for Jones; none was imposed.

While 16 is Mississippi’s age of legal consent, the state’s sexual battery statute raises that age to 18 when an adult is &#8220in a position of trust or authority” over the teen. In June 2005, District Attorney Gil Martin requested and received an opinion letter from the state Attorney General’s Office on whether the statute applied in either or both cases. The question was whether either or both officers fit the definition of someone &#8220in a position of trust or authority.”

Attorney General Jim Hood’s office wrote that an officer in Lane’s position fit that definition and that an officer in Jones’ could fit the definition. Indictments against both were sought and obtained.

After Lane was acquitted, Martin dismissed the case against Jones, who is to return to work Thursday.

City officials voted 2-1 to fire Jones, but in an appeal to the Civil Service Commission, he won a 3-0 ruling on Sept. 27 that a 15-month suspension without pay was appropriate.

Jones has been on suspension since July 21, 2005, the day he and Lane were arraigned. The city has indicated it has no plans to appeal the commission’s decision on Jones.