Officer Or Mother? It Matters For Pension Forfeiture

Written on 09/02/2022
Will Aitchison

Jaime Quinn was an officer with the Sunbury, Pennsylvania Police De­partment. The Department provided her with a cell phone, which was to be used only to assist her in fulfilling her duties as a police officer, except in certain emergency situations or with departmen­tal approval. Despite this requirement, Quinn gave her Department-issued phone to her son in October 2016 for his personal use, in order to replace another cell phone that had been confiscated by her son’s father. Quinn did this to ensure that she would be able to stay in touch with her son.

On November 29, 2016, Quinn’s son texted his mother and asked for her help with a sexting and revenge porn situation involving the son’s girlfriend, who was also a minor at that point. Quinn’s son explained to his mother that, unbeknownst to him, his girlfriend had texted a topless photo of herself to an­other teenaged male. His girlfriend had then stopped communicating with the other male, who retaliated by resending the photo to other individuals. Shortly thereafter, Quinn’s son found out about the photo from a third party and turned to his mother for guidance.

During the course of their conver­sation, Quinn realized that her son had potentially received the topless photo on her Department-issued phone, where­upon she texted him, “Oh God! That picture was never on that phone, was it? Either way, make sure you don’t have a copy of it and never admit to anyone else that you’ve actually seen it.” Quinn’s son deleted the picture from the phone.

Quinn was criminally charged with multiple crimes including diversion of services, theft by unlawful taking of movable property, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and conspiracy to tamper with or fabricate physical evidence. The Department then fired Quinn due to the criminal charges that had been lodged against her and not for giving her son her work cell phone; in fact, according to Quinn’s supervising officer, this action would have been deemed a minor violation of the Department’s policy manual, one that would have likely resulted in the issuance of a written reprimand. A jury convicted Quinn of one count of conspiracy to tamper with or fabricate physical evidence.

After her criminal trial concluded, Quinn filed a claim with Sunbury’s Po­lice Pension Fund regarding her vested pension benefits that she had accrued through her 22 years as a Sunbury po­lice officer. When the Fund denied her request for pension benefits, citing the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act, Quinn appealed.

A Pennsylvania appeals court re­instated Quinn’s pension. The Court found that “the one constant that ties convictions for all such forfeiture-eligible crimes together, though, is that, under the Pension Forfeiture Act, forfeiture cannot occur unless the relevant crimi­nal activity was ‘committed by a public official or public employee through his public office or position or when his public employment place[d] him in a position to commit the crime.’

“Though the phone that Quinn gave to her son was Department property, it remains that Quinn did not use it to con­spire to tamper with or fabricate physical evidence as part of her responsibilities as a public employee. Instead, Quinn acted in her private capacity as a mother, using her own personal phone to take steps to limit the fallout produced by her son’s romantic travails. Furthermore, her son’s use of the Department-issued phone was completely unrelated to any of Quinn’s official duties or responsibilities.

“Under the Pension Forfeiture Act, a public employee or official does not automatically forfeit their pension simply because their government-issued prop­erty was involved in a forfeiture-eligible crime. Rather, given the aforementioned language used in former Section 2, such usage of government-issued property is material to pension forfeiture only where the record reflects that the employee or official also committed the crime through their public position, or that the property they accessed by virtue of their position had more than an incidental connection to the crime’s commission.”

Quinn v. Police Pension Commission, 2022 WL 2674215 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2022).

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