CalPERS reinstates CHP officer’s pension despite sex convictions


The California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, headquarters buildings are pictured Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, in downtown Sacramento.

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The CalPERS board of directors voted Wednesday to reinstate the $99,000-a-year pension of a retired California Highway Patrol officer who was convicted of sexually assaulting his two daughters.

Johnnie Swaim, 56, of Imperial, was convicted by a jury of four felonies in 2013 in Imperial County Superior Court for assaulting the two girls when they were each under the age of 10. He maintained that he was innocent.

Swaim was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 2016, while in the corrections department, he filed for retirement and began receiving a pension, then worth around $93,300 a year.

CalPERS cut its benefits last year to about $14,000, citing a state law that prevents public employees who commit crimes on the job from continuing to accrue pensions.

Swaim appealed, arguing his convictions were not work-related. An administrative law judge sided with him last month, saying that while his crimes were “despicable”, they were unrelated to his work as a police officer.

On Wednesday, the council voted without discussion to accept the judge’s decision and restore Swaim’s pension. With cost-of-living increases applied since 2016, he’ll be worth around $99,000 a year.

Arguing for a reduction in his pension, CalPERS attorneys said Swaim, as a police officer, should be “held to a heightened standard of conduct, even when off duty.”

The administrative judge rejected these arguments.

California’s pension forfeiture law is similar to laws in many other states that require retirees to forfeit their pension when the crime is work-related, according to a summary from the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. Some state laws do not require giving up a pension at all.

Swaim was granted parole in 2020, according to a Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman.

This story was originally published June 15, 2022 2:54 p.m.

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Wes Venteicher presents The Bee’s popular coverage of State Worker in the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau. It covers taxes, pensions, unions, state expenses, and the California government. A native of Montana, he reported on health care and politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh before joining The Bee in 2018.

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