Austin police officers take the stand in Day 2 of Rude trialPublished 6:38am Wednesday, November 4, 2009
A procession of Austin police officers took the stand Tuesday in Rochester in Day 2 of the trial for on-leave Cpt. Curt Rude.
Rude is charged with felony theft — among other charges — for allegedly taking prescription drugs from the APD evidence room nearly two years ago, and the cops who testified largely spoke about in-house procedures regarding that room.
They were also questioned about the events of Nov. 6, 2007 — the day Rude allegedly took the painkiller OxyContin from the evidence room.
According to a criminal complaint, the drug in evidence was labeled “Mark Johnson,” a close friend of Rude’s and a former KAAL-TV reporter who died of an OxyContin overdose earlier in 2007.
Rude admitted to removing the evidence and said he might have taken the drugs because he felt “troubled” by Johnson’s death, the complaint states.
Officer Joe Milli, who allegedly saw Rude with the evidence in a lower-level kitchen at the station, was first to testify Tuesday.
He was called to the stand by state prosecutor Ross Leuning and was asked about what happened on Nov. 6, 2007.
Milli said he approached Rude in the kitchen and noticed him with what he thought was an evidence bag containing two bottles of pills.
Milli said Rude acted startled and later tried to conceal the bag.
The officer added that he wasn’t sure if Rude had pocketed the drugs or discarded them, so he later checked the room and found nothing.
Milli said he next contacted Officer Todd Clennon, who was one of two officers assigned to be “evidence technicians” at the time.
Clennon followed Milli on the stand Tuesday, but before that, Rude’s attorney Peter Wold pressed Milli on why he didn’t confront Rude about what he had seen.
“You went up the chain of command,” Wold said, “but never spoke with (Curt Rude)?”
“Correct,” Milli said.
Clennon told the jury he met with Milli and ultimately advised him to bring his concerns to Det. Brian Krueger.
The detective testified Tuesday and said he did in fact meet with Milli on Nov. 6, 2007.
Clennon also described for the jury how the APD evidence room works.
He said there are actually three rooms — one for initial storage, one for long-term storage, and the last for evidence that is going to be destroyed.
Clennon said evidence is taken to that third room when a case is closed and the object or objects can’t be used by the police for auction or other means.
In this particular case, he said the “Johnson” drugs were in the third room.
Clennon said items removed from any of the three rooms are supposed to be signed-out by one of several people.
At the time, Rude, like Clennon, had authority to do this.
But the officer said if he were the one requesting the evidence, he would still go through the process of signing it out — something Rude never did on Nov. 6, 2007, according to various testimonies.
“An officer wouldn’t just go in and help him or herself,” Clennon said.
Chief Paul Philipp, who said he had become good friends with Rude during their more than 20 years together on the force, also testified against the on-leave captain.
Like Clennon, Philipp spoke about how the department monitors what is taken from the evidence room.
He said when drugs are removed — which sometimes occurs for K9 units that are training — officers are instructed to carefully measure and track the evidence.
“We need to know where it is,” the chief said.
Philipp added that it would not have been in Rude’s day-to-day line of work to remove items from the “destruction barrel” in the back evidence room.
However, Wold pressed Philipp on whether there was a specific, written policy regarding objects in that barrel two years ago, to which the chief replied there wasn’t.
The attorney also argued that the “chain of custody” and in-house procedures regarding evidence removal were no longer relevant in this case because the drugs were set to be destroyed.
Philipp confirmed that this was correct as far as a court would be concerned.
Wold’s strategy cross-examining Philipp was applied to all the cops who testified — the attorney tried to establish that no clear policies were in place regarding the evidence room and that what Rude took was in fact no longer even evidence.
Ultimately, the defense is arguing that Rude’s actions may require internal discipline but do not constitute a crime.
To further this point, Wold used his opening statement to paint a picture of an honest police captain who never intended to steal.
“(Curt Rude) is a good cop,” Wold said. “His moral compass never strayed.”
After Tuesday’s proceedings, the attorney said his side’s position was still clear.
“He didn’t commit any crimes,” Wold said.
Prosecutor Leuning said the state would not comment on the day’s proceedings but did say he expects to get through evidence Wednesday.
Leuning may call one or two more state witnesses on Day 3, but the rest of the day is open for the defense’s witnesses to be heard.
Wold said he expects that to only take about an hour and a half. Some of the witnesses who may be called by the defense include Rude’s wife, Peggy, and KAAL-TV reporter Dan Conradt.
Though both sides may be done presenting evidence Wednesday afternoon, Judge Kevin Lund said he likely will hold closing arguments until Thursday morning in Olmsted County. A verdict could then come that afternoon.
The case is in Olmsted County because of concerns regarding an impartial trial in Mower County given Rude’s status — in addition to his police work, he currently serves on the Austin School Board.