Former sheriff’s deputy convicted of misconduct, drug possession

Ricky Gruber stole from county’s drug disposal program

Johanna Holub
news editor

A former Washington County sheriff’s deputy was convicted last week of misconduct by a public employee and illegal possession of prescription drugs after he was caught illicitly accessing and stealing from the county’s drug disposal bin earlier this year.
Oakdale resident Ricky Harry Gruber, 44, was originally charged with felony drug possession, felony theft, misconduct of a public officer and unlawful possession of pharmacy drugs. The theft charge was dismissed, and Gruber pleaded not guilty to four of the charges.

Only a limited number of officers have keys to the bin, and Gruber was not supposed to have one, nor was he authorized to take any items out of the bin.

Gruber resigned from his position the day he was arrested. He had worked for the sheriff’s department since 1997, and was an investigator for the county’s narcotics team from 2004 to 2009.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10.

Washington County attorney Pete Orput congratulated the sheriff’s office for its “swift and sure” investigation into the crime committed by one of its own deputies.

“Their professional response was responsible for our ability to bring him to justice,” Orput said in a statement. “While it is disheartening when a law enforcement officer commits a crime, we can be reassured by the fact that they, too, will be brought to answer for their crime.”

Caught on camera

The criminal complaint states that a sheriff’s sergeant with authorized access to the drop-box bin at the Washington County Law Enforcement Center found the bin slightly ajar Jan. 25 even though it was supposed to be secured at all times. The container with the drugs was also missing, the sergeant noticed. After reporting his findings to his superior, investigating officers concluded that a member of the sheriff’s department had likely accessed the bin. It was decided to secretly install surveillance equipment to monitor the bin.

On Feb. 6, video footage captured Gruber opening the secure drug bin and removing the container with the drugs. He then returned the container to the bin 13 minutes later.

Six days later, officers again observed Gruber taking drugs from the bin—this time on a live feed.

After he returned the drugs to the bin, Gruber was immediately placed under arrest.

When interviewed by a sergeant, Gruber reportedly admitted to taking different kinds of drugs from the bin on at least six occasions. According to the complaint, Gruber said the drugs were for his own personal use.

During the interview, Gruber reportedly said he had taken a key ring from one of the employees who had been authorized to access the bin and made a copy of it. He consented to a search of his office and vehicle, during which officers found more than 200 pills, a variety of controlled substances and prescription medications, in several different containers.

The Washington County drug “takeback” program allows residents to dispose of unused medications by depositing them in one of three collection drop boxes in Stillwater, Cottage Grove and Forest Lake. The goal is to reduce the chances of these unused medications being stolen or falling into the hands of children.

Increased security

Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton told the Review this spring that he was “disappointed and very embarrassed” about the theft. He said the department had plans to amp up the bins’ security with some “major changes.”

Although he could not speak to the new security measures specifically, Hutton restated that the drop boxes are now more secure.

“We’re still embarrassed to have gone through this process,” he told the Review last week. “It’s unfortunate this even occurred in the first place. Hopefully, we’ve restored some of that trust by reacting immediately.”

Hutton also noted that the drug takeback program has been “wildly successful” and collected more than 1,800 pounds of unused prescription drugs from January to May of this year alone.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.

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