Archived Story

Sheriff says evidence room is secure, reliable

Published 7:09am Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The integrity of the Austin Law Enforcement Center’s evidence room was called into question during the Curt Rude trial last week, but the county sheriff said Monday that she thinks the room is secure and reliable.

And a big reason why is a new, electronically scanned key card installed earlier this year as a reaction to the Rude incident, sheriff Terese Amazi said.

“He called into question every piece of evidence in that room,” Amazi said of what happened Nov. 6, 2007.

On that date, Rude, then captain of the Austin Police Department, entered the room and took two prescription pill bottles belonging to Mark Johnson. Johnson, a close friend of Rude’s and a former KAAL-TV reporter, died of a drug overdose earlier in 2007.

Rude was found guilty of felony drug possession and gross misdemeanor interfering with property in official custody on Thursday by an Olmsted County jury.

The felony charge, however, may be dropped at sentencing, Judge Kevin Lund said after the verdict.

Amazi said Rude’s actions were “absolutely” irresponsible and that moving evidence can jeopardize court proceedings.

“I think victims deserve better,” she added.

Though the new scan-card system was installed after the Rude incident, Amazi said it had been discussed for years.

It electronically tracks people coming and going from the back evidence room where Rude took the pills two years ago, she said.

“You should know who’s going in there,” Amazi said. “(The scanner) is sort of a double check.”

Before implementing the new system, the sheriff said a standard key granted access to the back evidence room.

That room is where evidence is stored long-term and where certain items are put into “destruction” barrels because the associated court cases are closed. This was the case with the painkiller OxyContin that Rude took.

While every officer at the LEC has access to an initial evidence room for tagging new items, Amazi said to her knowledge, only four people have access to the back room.

This includes herself and police chief Paul Philipp, and did include Rude before he was put on unpaid leave in November 2007.

Amazi said she wasn’t aware of any substantial changes on the horizon to policies and procedures relating to the back room, though she did say some reorganization and housekeeping is going on currently.

The system that is in place now works, the sheriff said, but only if the people who access the back evidence room make it work by checking out anything that is removed.

“You need to trust the people (who go in there),” Amazi said. “That’s where the issues lie.”

Philipp said in an e-mail that he was not commenting publicly on the evidence room at this time.

The chief added that he had no updates on Rude’s status with the department.

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