Rude found guilty on two of three counts

Published 9:37 pm Thursday, November 5, 2009

ROCHESTER – On-leave Austin police captain Curt Rude was found guilty on two of three counts against him Thursday evening.

After roughly six hours of deliberation, a 12-member jury found Rude guilty of felony drug possession and gross misdemeanor interfering with property in official custody.

He was found not guilty on one count of felony theft.

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Rude’s attorney Peter Wold said a possible appeal would not be discussed Thursday but could be filed later.

Rude had been on the force in Austin for 23 years before being put on unpaid leave in November 2007.

“There are no winners in this case, and what has taken place this week is but the next step in a process that began more than two years ago,” said Chief Paul Philipp, in a statement, but did not comment specifically on Rude’s position in the department.

“Now we need to move forward and that is exactly what we will do.”

Wold said the conviction likely means the end of Rude’s career in law enforcement, both in Austin and elsewhere.

It is less clear if Rude will lose his spot on the school board, which he technically holds until 2011.

Newly elected board member Jeff Kritzer said it was his understanding that a felony conviction would force someone to step down, but Rude may not be in fact saddled with a felony.

Judge Kevin Lund said after the verdict that he will strongly consider applying state statute 152.18 during sentencing, which essentially drops a first time drug offense from someone’s record.

Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz called the trial a personal matter for Rude, but said the district will be looking into what the outcome means for Rude’s future as a board member.

“When we get notification on what actually happened (in the trial), we’ll have to check with the state’s school board association,” Krenz said.

The on-leave captain will likely face a fine — but not jail time — for his conviction as well, prosecutor Ross Leuning said.

Wold said it is “disappointing” for all of this to happen to a “good cop” in a case that the attorney thought never should’ve gotten this far.

“What’s the worst thing that happened here?” Wold said. “(Rude) locked pills in his drawer. And now he’s a drug convict.”

Wold added that he thought Rude would carry on and be productive down the road despite the conviction.

Rude was not available for comment after the trial, nor were a number of family members who were visibly distraught by the outcome.

Leuning said the verdict didn’t make him happy, but he did think it was fair.

The prosecutor said an audio recording of Rude’s interview with state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents on Nov. 13, 2007, was, in his opinion, the strongest piece of evidence against the former captain.

Leuning said the “raw, unadulterated” interview showed that Rude did not have a clear reason for taking two bottles of OxyContin from the APD’s evidence room.

Rude took the pills, which were prescribed to Mark Johnson, on Nov. 6, 2007, when he noticed them in a “burn” barrel for discarded evidence.

Johnson, a close friend of Rude’s and a former KAAL-TV reporter, died of an OxyContin overdose earlier that year.

Leuning argued throughout the case that Rude took the pills while acting in a personal manner, rather than while doing his cop duties.

“This was nothing but personal to (Curt Rude),” he said during his closing argument.

Wold argued that Rude took the pills “as a cop” so he could do research on them — something he said was common for the former captain to do.

The defense attorney also argued that there was no clear policy regarding the APD evidence room, especially the barrel where Rude found the pills.

Instead, there was a “casual” system, Wold said — one that worked well and was understood by Rude.

“Captain Rude is not a thief,” Wold said during his closing. “He is not a drug convict. He is not a felon.”

But, ultimately, the jury decided that Rude’s possession of the OxyContin was unlawful and did not meet an exception for law enforcement because it was not done in the scope of his job.

The jurors also felt that Rude took something that was still in official custody, not the “garbage” as Wold argued.

To get to this conclusion, the jury had to ask two legal questions of the court.

First, they wanted clarification on what constituted “unlawful possession.” Later, they questioned what it meant for something to be “held in custody under the process of law.”

After consulting with the attorneys, Judge Lund was able to give limited answers to both.

Whether the defense will probe the jury’s process in arriving at a verdict during a possible appeal is unclear, Wold said afterward when asked about the two questions.

Rude is set for sentencing Dec. 21 in Olmsted County, which is where the whole trial was held because of concerns regarding impartiality in Mower County given Rude’s public status.

-David Richards contributed to this report