Hattiesburg police are still searching for a missing teenager believed to be with a former Forrest County school teacher. The teenager's parents said the woman used to be the boy's teacher, and the two are romantically involved.
Missing 16-year-old Oscar O'Neal III is believed to be with Nicole Jackson, a former Forrest County teacher arrested on April 10 and charged with sexual battery by a person in a position of trust or authority, according to Hattiesburg Police Department spokesman Ryan Moore. Jackson was out on bond when Oscar was reported missing.
Jackson, 30, could be facing decades in prison if convicted, even though the age of consent in Mississippi is 16.
WDAM spoke to Mississippi College School of Law Professor Matt Steffey, who outlined how this would be a criminal act.
"It would be sexual battery under a sub-section that governs people in a position of trust and authority," Steffey said.
"Under Mississippi's criminal laws, the teacher could face up to 30 years in prison if this is a first offense," Steffey added. "Otherwise, it's up to 40 years in prison."
Oscar was reported missing by his mother and was last seen at his home around 1 a.m. Monday, according to Moore. Oscar's parents said he left a note saying he had decided to move on with her.
"What makes this a criminal act is the fact that as a teacher, they hold a position of authority or trust over the students," Steffey said. "So, there's an inherent power imbalance and opportunity for an abusive or predatory relationship."
For the statute to stand on criminal ground, Jackson has to be the child's teacher.
"It's the kind of penalty designed to cover the most egregious cases," Steffey said. "At 16, as I said, this is an older high school student. Whether 30 years is appropriate is something the prosecutor and the judge will have to take a look at."
Because the sentence carries up to 30 years, Steffey said, the prosecutor will have tremendous leverage to extract a plea bargain in the case.
Hattiesburg Police do not have any new information to release at this time.
If you have any information on their whereabouts, contact Hattiesburg police or Metro Crime Stoppers at 601-582-7867.