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Arguments rested on whether Rude was acting as a cop

Post-Bulletin (Rochester, Minnesota)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News
BYLINE: Janice Gregorson, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

Austin, MN

Nov. 6 -- ROCHESTER -- Before jurors began six hours of deliberation on Thursday in the Curt Rude case, attorneys from both side pressed their arguments for conviction and acquittal.

The whole thing started exactly two years ago today. It was Nov. 6, 2007, when Rude, then a captain in the Austin Police Department, went into the evidence room at the Austin Police Department and walked out with two bottles of OxyContin from what is described as the "burn barrel" where evidence from closed cases is put to be destroyed.

Rude admitted he took the drugs from the evidence room, but said his intent was to research the drug, which had killed his long-time friend, Mark Johnson, a former KAAL-TV news reporter. Johnson died of an overdose seven months earlier. Before that, however, he had been charged with selling drugs. The prescription bottles were Johnson's.

He also said that as captain, he had access to the evidence room and regularly retrieved items from the burn barrel for instructional purposes.

Rude was seen by another officer with the bottles. It triggered an investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that eventually led to the criminal charges. The case was prosecuted by an Olmsted County attorney to avoid any conflict of interest. The trial was held in Rochester on a change of venue.

Several friends and relatives were on hand throughout the trial in support of Rude.

Chief in "tough spot"

In closing arguments, prosecutor Ross Leuning told jurors that Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp was in a tough spot.

"This (Rude) was his best friend. He was grooming him to be chief. Now he made a major blunder (in removing the

But, Leuning said, "the chief did what you hope every police officer would do. He said this was serious."

Leuning said Rude's actions "called into question the integrity of the evidence room and the quality of the Austin Police Department as a whole." He said the chief did the proper thing in asking the BCA to investigate.

He told jurors that the trial was not about Johnson or Rude's concerns for his friend.

Both attorneys stressed that this case was not about police department procedures and practices, it was about whether Rude violated state law.

Rude's attorey, Peter Wold told jurors that there was no policy governing taking items from the Austin evidence room burn barrel. He called that simply garbage ready to be destroyed.

Life as a cop

As he closed his final arguments, Wold asked jurors to consider what it means to be a cop. He said Rude was a dedicated cop devoted to his department and the people of Austin.

"He was most often the face of the Austin Police Department. It was his job, his responsibility to inform, to educate, to sound the alarm in the community. He did it day in and day out."

Wold said cops don't have switches they can turn off. Being a cop is their life.

"That is what we expect. We expect cops to be cops on or off duty, to always react, to help victims," he said.

Wold told jurors that to suggest Rude was not acting in his capacity as a cop the day he removed the OxyContin from the burn barrel is just not right.

"He has earned the benefit of doubt," Wold said.

He said all Rude did was move the bottles from the garbage barrel to a locked drawer in his locked office in the secure Austin Police Department.

"It's not always easy to be a cop. The pay is modest, the hours long. There is danger, they are disrespected, even despised," Wold said.

Wold said at the core, Rude was thinking and acting as the "good cop he always was."

Office politics

In this case, Wold said, there were office politics.

He said the summer before this incident, a strain had developed between Rude and Philipp over Rude's running for a seat on the Austin School Board.

Jurors never got to hear about a dispute between Rude and then Superintendent Candace Raskin on election night.

She ended up filing a complaint with the police department stemming from what was called a confrontational verbal exchange. Rude ended up being reprimanded by the chief for behavior called "unbecoming to yourself and the police

Wold told jurors that it comes down to whether Rude was a cop that day he took the OxyContin "or an interloper" taking care of personal business that day.

"He did not stick them in his pocket or take them home. He didn't pop one (of the pills) in his mouth," the attorney said, adding "he lawfully possessed the drugs."

"Curt Rude is not a thief. He is not a drug convict. He is not a felon," Wold said. "He is guilty of none of those three charges."

Leuning told jurors to remember that police officers are not above the law, and Rude's actions harmed the reputation and credibility of the Austin Police Department.

Arguments rested on whether Rude was acting as a cop Post-Bulletin (Rochester, Minnesota) November 6, 2009 Friday
He agreed that Rude served the Austin police and the Austin community "honorably," until he took OxyContin from the drug evidence room.

"He deserves to be treated the same as anyone else," Leuning said.

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