Rude says Philipp should have received the same treatment

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, August 21, 2010

Curt Rude, the former Austin police captain who was terminated from his position earlier this year, said he thinks there was a double standard when it came to how the city treated him versus former chief Paul Philipp.

What really sticks out, Rude said, is what the two former employees received when they walked out the door.

Rude — who was terminated after being convicted of a felony drug crime that cost him his police license — received nothing from the city, although he did still receive his state pension.

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Philipp, on the other hand, received $54,977 in unused sick time and vacation time upon retirement, the city’s finance director reported. The city also contributed money into Philipp’s state retirement account — most recently at a rate of 14 percent of the former chief’s $94,000 salary — over the years, although specific figures from that account are not public data because employees contribute as well.

Philipp retired in January after former secretary Judy Boorman filed a complaint that alleged that he pursued affairs with various women while on the clock, which she said was a misuse of public funds.

The former chief said in a statement e-mailed to the Herald on Aug. 11 that he made mistakes in his personal life, but added that he was “never derelict in my duties as Chief of Police.”

Philipp also previously stated in a press release that he retired “to spare the Austin police force additional controversy that may be divisive.”

Philipp declined a follow-up request to comment for this story.

Mayor Tom Stiehm said in an earlier interview that the decision to retire was Philipp’s alone, adding that the city never tried to push the chief out to cover the allegations up.

On Thursday, Stiehm maintained that the investigation — which was handled by city attorney John Beckmann — was thorough and that had Philipp stuck around, he likely would not have been terminated as a result. That means he still would have received his retirement benefits whenever he decided to leave, the mayor said.

Instead, Stiehm said Philipp decided to retire rather than go through the investigation process, leaving the city little they could do.

“Paul owned up, I think,” Stiehm said. “He punished himself harder than we ever could have.”

However, Boorman and now Rude have claimed that the investigation should have been handled by someone outside the city. In Rude’s case, it was the work of two outside entities — the BCA and, later, the Olmsted County court system — which ultimately led to his punishment.

The mayor said the cost of an outside investigation — which would have been in the neighborhood of $10,000 to $12,000, Stiehm added — would not have been worth it in Philipp’s case, because he simply left on his own.

Stiehm and the city administrator noted it is common to bring in the city attorney’s office, especially in the early stages of an investigation. The mayor added that the same attorney — Beckmann — handled both the Rude case and the Philipp case.

Ultimately, Stiehm said the Philipp case was handled properly.

“If the (Minnesota) attorney general took a look at it, they’d say, ‘This was absolutely the way it was supposed to be done,’” the mayor said, adding the city was very careful because, “We all knew this whole thing would be under a microscope.”

But Rude said he still feels he got a raw deal. The former captain was put on leave in 2007 after he was found with prescription pills in his possession that had come from the department’s evidence room. In November 2009, he was convicted of a felony drug crime by an Olmsted County jury. Though the felony could be erased from Rude’s record if he abides by the terms of his five years of probation, the conviction alone was enough to cost him his license — and his career.

Rude has maintained that he took the OxyContin pills — which belonged to Mark Johnson, a close friend of Rude’s and former KAAL-TV reporter who died of a drug overdose — to learn more about them. He said he never sold or used any pills, the latter claim supported by a clean drug test, Rude noted.

The former captain said Philipp should have been subject to the same process as he was, which would have included going on leave and dealing with an outside investigator.

Instead, Rude said Philipp was allowed to just walk away.

“I would have hoped, in a sense of fairness, that I was treated like Paul,” he said.

Stiehm said he wouldn’t comment — and didn’t want to speculate — on whether hypocrisy existed in how the two former high-ranking police officials were treated.

The mayor added: “That’s certainly the issue, isn’t it?”