Rude takes stand at own trialPublished 7:37am Thursday, November 5, 2009
On the day before a jury is set to begin deliberation in his case, Curt Rude testified Wednesday that he did not commit a crime when he removed pills from the Austin Police Department’s evidence room nearly two years ago.
Sometimes emotionally, other times comically, the on-leave captain described the events of Nov. 6, 2007, and everything that has followed, including a meeting with chief Paul Philipp and another with agents from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
It is on Nov. 6, 2007, when Rude said he took two bottles of the prescription painkiller OxyContin prescribed to Mark Johnson from the APD’s evidence room.
Johnson, a close friend of Rude’s and a former KAAL-TV reporter, died of an OxyContin overdose earlier that year.
With his wife Peggy often crying into the shoulder of the couple’s son during his testimony, Rude said he was simply struck by the bottles when he saw them in a barrel of evidence set for destruction.
He has admitted that he took the two bottles from the room, located in the Law Enforcement Center’s basement, up to his office, where he locked them in a desk drawer.
However, Rude adamantly denied that he broke APD policy — he said it is common for officers to take stuff from the “destruction” barrel, which holds evidence from closed cases — much less committed any crime.
Rude is charged with felony theft and drug possession, as well as with gross misdemeanor interfering with property in official custody.
On Wednesday, he said he took the pills from the evidence room while on-duty and intended to look into them “as a cop.”
Rude said he knew very little about OxyContin at the time and wanted to learn more about the drug that killed his friend, Johnson, so he could maybe educate the community.
“I lost him as a friend,” Rude said of Johnson. “But as a cop, I wanted to be proactive.”
The former captain went on to say that there was no policy regarding taking evidence from the destruction barrel, adding that he did so on a number of occasions.
But this is a different story then the one painted by a number of Austin police officers called by state prosecutor Ross Leuning Tuesday.
According to those testimonies, Rude should have signed-off on the drugs he took from the room, something he never did.
Leuning asked Rude Wednesday why he never made note of moving the OxyContin.
“It was never my policy to check items out of (the destruction barrel),” the on-leave captain responded.
Leuning also pressed Rude on his reasons for taking the pills.
Though Rude said Wednesday that he did it “as a cop” for research purposes, Leuning played for the court an audio recording of Rude’s interview with BCA agents in November 2007 in which the former captain seems unsure of his reasoning.
In the recording, Rude said at the time he took the pills, he didn’t know why he did it. Later, he concluded that he probably took them because he was “troubled” by Johnson’s death.
Leuning also questioned Rude about why he initially lied to Philipp about taking the pills when first confronted by the chief on Nov. 7, 2007.
The former captain said he had a lot on his mind because of his recent election to the school board and didn’t want to discuss the topic at first.
But he added that he quickly decided to in fact show Philipp the drugs in his drawer.
Leuning lastly argued that a police officer would have ample sources — such as the Internet and an in-office manual — to research a drug without having it at hand.
He said that Rude instead had the OxyContin as a “knick-knack,” citing language from an earlier court proceeding.
However, the former captain maintained that he used that term in a sarcastic matter while discussing the case with Philipp.
Rude said he ultimately did not take the OxyContin for personal reasons.
That will be one of the big questions for the jury to consider. The 14-member panel, which consists of two alternates, is expected to receive the case for deliberation by Thursday afternoon.
The jury must also weigh whether Rude intended to deprive the department of the pills permanently, which is a component of the theft charge.
If found guilty on that count, Rude could face 10 years in jail, a $20,000 fine, or both.
After proceedings Wednesday in Rochester — which is where the case is being held because of concerns regarding impartiality in Mower County given Rude’s public status — the former captain said he was “exhausted” from testimony.
Rude did not comment further on how he felt going into Thursday.