PEABODY — A now-retired Peabody police lieutenant convicted of using the birth dates and Social Security numbers of colleagues to access their Civil Service exam results on a state website eight years ago should not lose his pension, a Peabody District Court judge has ruled.
Judge Matthew Nestor, in a 31/2-page decision released yesterday, found that the lost pension, potentially worth between $659,000 and more than $1 million, amounted to an “excessive fine” given the nature of the crimes that Edward Bettencourt committed.
State law allows for the forfeiture of a pension in response to misconduct that is related to a public employee’s job. But Bettencourt and his lawyers have argued that, though his crimes took place while he was on duty, on Police Department equipment, they were not related to his role as a police officer.
They also argued that even if they were found to be — as the Appeals Court did earlier this year — the penalty is far in excess of what the crime warrants.
On this point, Nestor agreed.
“Given Mr. Bettencourt’s conduct and the harm incurred by the officers and the public, I find that the forfeiture of his lifetime pension benefits and health insurance coverage is an excessive fine and is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Nestor concluded.
His decision could now be appealed by the state Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission, potentially setting off further litigation. A lawyer for PERAC could not be reached yesterday for comment on whether the agency will appeal.
Bettencourt, at the time a 24-year veteran of the Peabody Police Department, was the watch commander on Christmas night 2004.
While at the station, using a department computer, Bettencourt used the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of 20 fellow Peabody officers and one Salem officer to create fraudulent accounts on the Civil Service website, which then allowed him to check each individual officer’s exam scores.