Off-Duty Executive Officer for the Minneapolis SWAT Team Beats a Man Into a Coma

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

According to witnesses, it was because the man was talking too loudly on his cell phone.

Sgt. David Clifford, 47, executive officer of the SWAT unit, was to appear in Anoka County court Tuesday morning on a charge of third-degree felony assault . . .

Brian Vander Lee, 43, of Ramsey, who works in the Star Tribune advertising department, was in stable condition at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids on Monday afternoon and was breathing on his own, said Steven Engelhart, Vander Lee’s boss. A family spokesman said Vander Lee was moving his hands and feet and was no longer on life support.

According to the criminal complaint, a surveillance video shows that Vander Lee was sitting on the patio at Tanner’s Station in Andover with his wife and brother on Saturday evening when Clifford, who was sitting at the next table, confronted him. Vander Lee was on his cellphone when Clifford leaned over and began talking in his ear, said Anoka County Sheriff’s Commander Paul Sommer. Witnesses described it as a “verbal confrontation,” according to the criminal complaint.

Then Clifford struck Vander Lee in the mouth with his right fist, Sommer said the video showed. Vander Lee fell backward, his head hitting the pavement.

“This was not a fight in any sense of the word,” Sommer said. “This is a one-sided assault. Vander Lee is starting to stand up. Before he reaches his feet, Clifford has hit him.”

More here. Vander Lee is now out of a coma, but still in critical condition. According to at least one witness, Clifford hit Vander Lee so hard that when he hit the ground, his head bounced off the concrete.

Clifford claims in the police report that Vander Lee was using offensive language, but according to the criminal complaint, no one else in the restaurant heard it. No one claims Vander Lee struck Clifford first, though Clifford apparently claimed he feared Vander Lee was about to. After striking Vander Lee, Clifford then fled on foot to a nearby parking lot as Vander Lee’s brother and friend chased him. His wife then swung by in her car to pick him up, and the two of them fled. He turned himself in the next day.

The Minneapolis Police Department initially went into defensive mode, noting that Clifford had received two medals of valor and “no sustained allegations on his disciplinary record.” A couple things, there. First, let’s keep in mind that this is the same Minneapolis Police Department that gave its SWAT team “medals of valor” for raiding the wrong house, resulting in a shootout with an innocent Hmong man. His wife and six children were in the house, which the police filled with at least 22 rounds. As for Clifford’s alleged clean record, the key word in that sentence is sustained. In this case, it merely means he hasn’t yet done anything so severe that even other cops and prosecutors were willing to hold him accountable.

That doesn’t necessarily mean his record is clean.

He was hired by the Minneapolis police in 1993. Two years later, suspecting he had confronted a prowler while on patrol, he allegedly pepper-sprayed the man and hit him several times in the head with a flashlight. Charges of fifth-degree assault against Clifford were dropped for lack of evidence.

The city of Minneapolis reached a settlement in a civil suit over the incident, paying alleged victim Harry Lazover $55,000.

I’ve received a couple emails over the last few days, both by reliable readers with ties to the Minneapolis law enforcement community, who say Clifford is known to have a short temper. Nevertheless, it doesn’t look like even this incident is enough to penetrate the Blue Wall. Here’s the headline after Clifford’s bail hearing:


Digg it |  reddit | |  Fark

94 Responses to “Off-Duty Executive Officer for the Minneapolis SWAT Team Beats a Man Into a Coma”

  1. #1 |  Other Sean | 

    Original Sean,

    “The SWAT officer’s wife definitely needs to be charged with aiding and abetting or whatever the charge would be, since she helped him flee afterwards”

    Do you wonder how she learned to do that? I mean, it’s not exactly the normal wifely response to move AWAY from her husband after a violent incident in a public place. Still less is it normal for a stunned middle aged woman to fetch a getaway car and skillfully maneuver it into position. We must assume she was in denial of the fact that her husband did anything wrong, so one would have expected her to scream for or call the police.

    The only apparent alternative is: she knew he was the aggressor instantly and without doubt, and she knew he would need her help to escape the scene. But HOW could she know those things, unless she’d witnessed something similar before?

    I’ve heard a few stories from cops about starting fights or knocking people out off-duty and then running away on foot, to be picked up by other cops at a safe distance. I have NEVER heard of a cop’s wife taking part in anything like that.

  2. #2 |  pinandpuller | 

    Did they pay their bill before fleeing?

  3. #3 |  lurkerbee | 

    #50 & 51 The Seans

    A wife defending her husband is a feature, not a bug.

    I can almost guarantee all she saw was her husband getting his ass beat, and wanted to get him out of there regardless of circumstances. He was a thuggish ass, she was acting on instinct.

  4. #4 |  Linda | 

    Oh my God, I can not get past the part of his head bouncing off the concrete….. Just very disturbing and brutal. I will hope for a full recovery for Mr. Vander Lee, but really do not expect it.

  5. #5 |  John David Galt | 

    Good on both the Agitator and whatever site you got that story from, for giving us the name and picture of the uniformed bad guy. This rarely happens. If we can’t put most of them behind bars, we should at least name and shame as many as we can.

    When it’s cop vs. civilian, the civilian is the one entitled to the presumption of innocence. Giving that up ought to be part of the cost of being a cop. (And if a cop ever feels the need to hide his face or badge number, then he is admitting his actions are dishonorable, and ought to find a different job.)

  6. #6 |  marco73 | 

    I’d commented a couple days ago that there was no way this assault could be covered up.
    Buy $15k bail? And his cop buddies escorting him out of jail?

    City will settle for high 6 figures. Cop will plead down to a parking ticket, suspended sentence, followed by a medal ceremony and parade.

  7. #7 |  JoeP | 

    How do you guys read stories like this and not succumb to simultaneous waves of outrage and utter hopelessness for our country? I understand that there have always been “problems” in America, corruption, racism, crime, bigotry, etc., and I’m aware of the phenomena that occurs when people think that there is more of a particular problem now than there was x-number of years ago, but in reality it’s because there’s greater media coverage or reporting of the problem.

    But still…

    I dunno, reading these kinds of stories just fills me w/ hopelessness for the country and our society and leaves me thinking the future will include more acts of official (off-duty) repression and lawlessness.

    Can you imagine how betrayed the WW2 generation would feel if they actually were aware of and understood how our own gov’t has morphed into a plutocracy that shredded the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (at least the parts dealing w/ civil liberties)?

    I doubt more than a handful of average Americans even know what the Nuremberg Trials were, or who Justice Jackson was, and how unlikely is the possibility of a figure of his class and stature emerging from the federal judiciary in this age of abusive partisan politics. They certainly don’t realize how shameful it is that our President now claims the right to unilaterally kill anyone he deems to be an enemy of the state, including our own citizen-brothers, yet after WW2 we found a way to afford the worst Nazi’s due process and give them a fair trial.

    But again, it’s not just corruption/insanity at the top of the gov’t – this article tells a tale of criminality and foreshadows corruption at the local level that is disheartening.

  8. #8 |  Sean | 

    I wonder if one of his “medal of valor” awards came from that raid where they hit the wrong house and a H’mong man with a shotgun handed their asses to them? I believe that happened a few years back in Minneapolis, and all of those officers got the Medal of Valor, for raiding the wrong house.

    I think it was claimed it was for their “restraint” in not just killing everybody in the house — pretty bad when it’s considered “valorous” to not summarily execute people.

  9. #9 |  Ariel | 

    What a nice man, his mother must be so proud.

  10. #10 |  Other Sean | 


    Already too much publicity for that, though you’d be dead right in lots of other cases.

    This settlement goes into the millions. Clifford will be fired, and will lose his license (barring some shocking development in the case). Since they’ve already low-balled to the lowest felony charge, he’ll probably end up pleading guilty to some misdemeanor like simple assault or disorderly conduct or mayhem or whatever bullshit word they use for that in Minnesota.

    But here’s the nut punch: As a former SWAT unit commander, he will QUICKLY find very lucrative work as a consultant/trainer, or maybe as a contractor of the Blackwater variety. In about three years, he’ll have a bigger house and a better getaway car than he does today.

  11. #11 |  Ariel | 

    When you always fear for your safety because the other 99.7% of us must all be out to hurt you, not killing is an act of valor. Well, ok, a twisted one but still…

  12. #12 |  marco73 | 

    Other Sean – you sure got that right. This ex-cop will probably be more in demand on the cop training curcuit: “OOOh – that’s the guy who put some punk in a coma with 1 punch!”

  13. #13 |  BamBam | 

    Find out where this cop and his accomplice wife live, print out a flier, and everyone mail the flier to all of their neighbors in a 3 block radius to let them know what kind of people they have for neighbors. Encourage those neighbors to SHUN them, to NEVER SPEAK to them, to NEVER do anything that acknowledges their existence.

  14. #14 |  Resistance | 

    Murderer in Chief

  15. #15 |  a_random_guy | 

    “Find out where this cop and his accomplice wife live, print out a flier, and everyone mail the flier to all of their neighbors in a 3 block radius to let them know what kind of people they have for neighbors.”


    Calls for action of this sort are internet thuggery. Don’t make this kind of call and don’t participate. All sorts of innocent people get caught in the gears.

  16. #16 |  John C. Randolph | 

    I’m generally opposed to workplace drug testing, but something’s got to be done about these cops and their ‘roid rage. Too many innocent people are getting hurt.


  17. #17 |  John C. Randolph | 

    no sustained allegations on his disciplinary record.

    Kind of reminds me of how witnesses against the mob tend to lose their memory.


  18. #18 |  GreginOz | 

    Wow, it is strange that you live in such a dangerous country. I would be AFRAID to visit the USA. First I’d get irradiated in Sydney, Australia then the same entering the U.S. (so I develop cancer), then any U.S. T.S.A pervert, cop, sheriff, reservist, wadeva who didn’t like the cut of my jib could bash, taser, maim, kill me at will. Apparently it is a crime to breathe, speak, talk back, resist, drink, drive, or party. It is a numbers game, like winning the lottery, except with reverse luck! I wonder how many more screw turns b4 sombody explodes?

  19. #19 |  David | 

    Not to beg, but….can we PLEASE see the surveillance tape of the welfare queen’s assault on the private sector worker?

    I’ve heard numerous descriptions of it, so it has to be floating around out there. (Unless the welfare queen cops are prancing around confiscating them all to make it magically disappear, as they’re wont to do.)

  20. #20 |  Pi Guy | 

    omar et al, re: gang rape and wishing violence upon cops

    I reluctantly agree that my wishes for the officer’s actions should be punishable by gang rape. I realize that it’s not an excuse but I’ve had two run-ins with police in the last several months truly over-exercising their duties on traffic stops, one was rather harrowing with me and the officer both outside the car for changing lanes at the entrance to the Army base where I used to work.

    The other was a exactly as Burgers Allday’s related his wife experience: cop said I wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Of course I was. The real issue was that I was smoking a blunt (pure tobacco) wearing a ponytail in a conservative-leaning town wear white people don’t do such things. The officer was cop was, IMO, certain that he was a bout to make a pot bust. I figure the seat belt was just pretense for getting me on the side of the road. No citations issued because no infractions occurred.

    I’m a middle class, college-educated white guy but I’m starting to understand what the fear of driving while black is like. You think “Stop Snitchin” is unjustified? I really don’t think so anymore.

    But, again, I wish I could un-type the gang rape part. OTOH, if the house is raided and someone shoots mi diablo chica perro (I only address The Beagle Dog ™ in Spanglish) just because she coming right for them, I’m pretty sure that, at this point, their gonna have to shoot me too. I’m that pissed.

  21. #21 |  Pi Guy | 

    OMD, I need to preview better on this forum when I comment at sunrise.

    Coffee. More coffee.

  22. #22 |  Pi Guy | 

    OK, so I just followed the link provided by JSL @ #45. “Don’t live in bad neighborhoods” is his first piece of advice? WTF?

    Essentially, he’s saying to me, “If you don’t want to be harrassed by police, don’t smoke cigars typically used by black pot smokers while being a long-haired hippie in my Leave It To Beaver town or you’re asking for ‘special treatment’.”

    Sorry, folks. Now I know why I feel the way I do. I’m leaning back toward taking my whole apology above back. He’s made clear that there’s a line in the sand and he’s absolutely certain that he and his brothers in blue – who clearly aren’t telling this guy what dick he is – are on the right side and people like me on the wrong side. They’ve drawn first blood.

  23. #23 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Two more comments:

    1. Sounds like he would have been about 27 years old when he joined up with MPD in 1993. Makes me wonder . . .

    2. On April 23, 1995, consistent with his routine for the prior seven years, appellant Harry Lazover left his apartment in south Minneapolis at 4:00 a.m. to catch the 4:45 a.m. bus to go to work at his job cleaning patient rooms at Hennepin County Medical Center. Appellant is described by himself and others as “socially slow” or “learning disabled.” He, however, lives alone and supports himself. Appellant was on the sidewalk near his apartment building when a police car approached. Respondent, police officer David R. Clifford, thought seeing someone alone at that time of the morning in that part of town was suspicious. Officer Clifford knew the area had a high incidence of car break-ins and prowlers. Much of what happened after the officer encountered appellant is disputed. According to the appellant, the officer rolled down his squad-car window and asked appellant where he was going. Appellant responded that he was going to catch the bus to go to work and pointed to the HCMC identification badge clipped to his shirt. The officer then asked when the bus was coming; when appellant answered 4:45, the officer asked what appellant was going to do until the bus came. Appellant’s answer that he would walk and wait seemed tense, rehearsed, and suspicious to the officer. According to appellant, the officer then got out of his car and approached appellant and ripped a work identification badge from appellant’s pocket. The officer asked for more identification. Appellant produced his state identification card, which listed his address as 3401 Dupont, the building adjacent to that area of the sidewalk. The officer testified he asked appellant to step over and place his hands on the squad car, which appellant did voluntarily. According to the officer, he had not completed his pat search of appellant, nor seen appellant’s Minnesota identification card, when appellant broke away and started resisting. Appellant has a routine of carrying his two house keys inside a sock in his pocket and carrying considerable cash until he can deposit it in the bank. On this occasion, appellant had $5,500 in a pocket. According to appellant, the officer removed the sock containing the keys from appellant’s pocket; the officer also removed pay stubs from another pocket. Because appellant began to worry that the officer would remove his money, he tried to get away from the officer. According to appellant, the officer screamed profanity at him and slammed him against the car. Appellant claimed he was scared and again tried to get away from the officer and they began to struggle. What happened during the struggle is disputed. Appellant testified that he crouched down and the officer then pushed him face down on the ground. The officer appeared to leave briefly; when he came back, appellant felt something hard against his head that he thought might be a gun. Appellant felt three sharp blows to his head. After the last blow, the officer came around in front of appellant and sprayed him in the face with mace. The officer testified that appellant tried to hit him in the head with his elbow as he rose from having his hands on the squad-car roof. The officer attempted to control appellant by grabbing him, but when he was unable to accomplish this after about a minute’s struggle, he used his flashlight. The officer testified that he intended to hit appellant around the shoulders and did not remember hitting appellant on the head. After the officer struck and handcuffed appellant, the officer took him to the emergency room at Hennepin County Medical Center, appellant’s place of employment. The officer tab charged appellant with fifth degree assault and left. The charges were later dropped. Several staff at the hospital recognized appellant and were surprised to see him. Appellant was bruised and covered with blood and had a significant wound to the back of his head. Appellant was given medical treatment and sent home for the day. Ultimately, appellant recovered from his injuries. . . .

  24. #24 |  Ron | 

    Hey (#37) SJE: Before you go into partisan attack mode, at least get your facts straight.

    1) The Anoka County Sherriff (Sommer) seemed to be pretty sympathetic to the victim. Read hisa quotes again.

    2) The perpetrator of this barbarity is from *Minneapolis* SWAT, not Anoka.

  25. #25 |  croaker | 

    @45 and this is why I believe life inprisonment with a side order of anal rape is an appropriate punishment for SWAT thugs like Clifford.

    Allow me to restate a previous comment: Clifford should be farmed out to a Turkish Prison and left to rot there. Stripping him and his family of US citizenship would also be a good thing.

  26. #26 |  Other Sean | 


    I’m going to take you at face value, and pretend for a moment you’re not just blowing off steam to make yourself feel better.

    Here’s are the implications of your comment:

    1) You have no objection to a prison system based on sadistic and arbitrary retribution, where some rape, some get raped, and all human rights are forfeit once a person has been found guilty. Nice.

    2) You’re in favor of extraordinary rendition to developing world shit holes, to be used whenever YOU decide that even our repulsively violent prison system isn’t brutish enough to do the job. Okay.

    3) You want Clifford’s punishment to be based, not on the particular crime he committed, but one the general grounds that he is a SWAT thug. Because hey, what could possibly go wrong with putting people on trial for WHO they are, instead of WHAT they’ve provably done?

    4) You want his entire family to be punished for something he did. Specifically, you want them stripped of citizenship and turned into international refugees.

    Now, remind me please: exactly what values and beliefs do you claim to share with the author of this blog and the people who read it?

  27. #27 |  Mairead | 

    Burgers (72) thanks for posting the story of Mr Lazover’s assault. Now I understand why he was only comp’d $55K: he’s “learning disabled”, a category that makes his life less valuable to the state.

  28. #28 |  Burgers Allday | 

    well, I didn’t post the full “unpublished” opinion, but it seems that Lazover lost at trial the first time, so his settlement occurred in the shadow of having lost in front of a jury once.

    I don’t know why he lost the first jury trial. The unpublished decision faults the trial judge to some extent (which is why there was an opportunity given for a retrial, and why he got $55K instead of zero), but there must have been other stuff going on. Slow and learning disabled people can make sympathetic plaintiffs, at least potentially. Especially ones holding down paying jobs and supporting themselves.

    what was his race?

    did he have a decent lawyer?

    did he just draw a bad jury?

  29. #29 |  crazybob | 

    “1) The Anoka County Sherriff (Sommer) seemed to be pretty sympathetic to the victim. Read hisa quotes again.

    2) The perpetrator of this barbarity is from *Minneapolis* SWAT, not Anoka.”

    If the assault had taken place in Minneapolis, instead of Anoka, we would not have been hearing about it.

    Of course don’t forget that lovely Anoka has a school policy that has the effect of preventing teachers from protecting kids from anti-gay bullying, with the predictable result of 9 teen suicides in the last year.

  30. #30 |  demize! | 

    Maybe they would like to escort him into jail? Sort of hang out with him there, watch his back and front.

  31. #31 |  demize! | 

    Sorry for the double but I want to also chime in about the casual prison rape rhetoric. The inmates who do this are usually the most aggressive and violent, the ones who pray on weaker and unprotected, unaffiliated victims. They extort and have power.They mete out physical punishment for the myriad unwritten jailhouse transgressions. They fuck with people who want to be left alone. Sound familiar. They’re also less likely to get shit from CO’s who are intimidated by them. So yeah.

  32. #32 |  jimn | 

    “I lived in Mpls for years. The cops used to be relaxed and friendly. Not quite as laid-back as the cops in Arcata California, but close. I wonder what happened.”

    @#16 – Along with all the usual reasons Radley commonly mentions, I think the elimination of the city residency requirement for police officers has also had a negative effect in Minneapolis. They don’t live here anymore, this is only their workplace(battleground).

  33. #33 |  Ron | 


    1) How do you know?

    2) So the Anoka School system is responsible for the Minneapolis SWAT officer’s assault?

    Do you have any more non-sequiturs for us?

  34. #34 |  el coronado | 

    #79 –

    While you’re out there doing them bizarre non-sequiturs for the crowd’s enjoyment, kindly try and put at least *some* of the blame on Michelle Bachman. Or Jesse Ventura. Or maybe the Republican Governor of nearby Wisconsin.

  35. #35 |  SJE | 

    The social conservatives talk about the importance of “culture,” especially in the context of welfare recipients. I happen to agree with them. Of course, it cuts both ways.

  36. #36 |  Other Sean | 

    jimn #82,

    Police residency requirements only make things worse by artificially limiting the pool of applicants to training academies.

    Actually, such rules have an especially terrible effect on minority recruiting. Think about it. A middle class black kid whose family moved up out of Hawthorne to escape the public schools might join the MSP police force, but not if it means moving back to the city’s decrepit core.

  37. #37 |  Jovan1984 | 

    Hey, Resistance:

    George Bush MURDERED more than 6,000 of our servicepeople.

    Obama, on the other hand, KILLED only TWO people (one was killed by a drone).

    So, who is REALLY the murderer-in-chief?

  38. #38 |  Whim | 

    For some ambitious writer, I think there is a non-fiction best seller in the life of Sgt. David Clifton, decorated psycho career cop from Minneapolis Police Dept.

    Using FOIA, and a lot of research through old police files, it would be insightful to document the Use of Force reports filed by Sgt. Clifton, as well as the Citizen Complaints filed against Sgt. Clifton.

    And, also EVERY police report that Sgt. Clifton ever filed.

    As well as the legal record of public filings concerning the conduct of Sgt. Clifton.

    Clifton showed a sadistic stream a yard wide for at least the past 18 years.

    And, no one on the Minneapolis PD ever noticed?

    It appears that he was a menace to the community all the way back to 1995, and his very early years on the Minneapolis police force.

    Just think through the incident documented in the court appeal back in 1995:

    Provoking an incident at 4:00 a.m. with a hospital janitor named Harry Lazover, who had followed the same work routine for the past seven years: Leave his apartment at 4:00 a.m.; walk to the bus stop; catch the 4:45 a.m. bus to his job at the local hospital.

    Until he met Officer Clifton. Clifton rolled up on, stopped, questioned, harassed, detained, attacked, and clubbed in the head to unconsciousness with a police flashlight a mildly learning disabled man.

    A man who had a perfectly good explanation (as if he even needed one) of what he was doing on the Minneapolis sidewalk outside his home at 4:00 a.m.

    On where he was going: To the Bus stop to go to work at the Hennepin County Medical Center.

    When I.D. was demanded by Clifton he also showed Officer Clifton both his hospital I.D., as well as his state issued I.D. Not good enough.

    On how he was going to get there: Walk.

    On what he was going to do at the bus stop: Wait for the 4:45 a.m. bus.

    Sgt. Clifton is one sorry piece of police excrement, and has been for over career with MPD……

  39. #39 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Clifford is typical, not the exception. He is the perfect cop.

    Remember, FUCK YOU if you talk loud on a phone. That gets a punch in the face.

    Nice to see people are starting to realize this is the present and the future only gets worse.

  40. #40 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    A lot of libertarians claim in public that violence is the only way to get through to some cops.

    Sauce for the gander.

    C’mon, Omar. There’s a bit of a difference between a skinny neck beard libertarian with no special powers and a fully armed cop backed up by near immunity and the wealth of the most powerful nation in history willing to snap the neck of anything that suits it’s fancy.

    I’ll take the libertarian who will debate me on Locke or maybe Hume over the steroid-fueled rage machine cop who’s the equivalent of “Hulk Smash!”

  41. #41 |  SP | 

    Clifford is worse than the garbage he allegedly protects the public from.

  42. #42 |  matt | 

    The only glimmer of justice may be that Clifford can be made to pay in a civil suit where the “blue wall” will not help him.

  43. #43 |  Militant Libertarian » Off-Duty Executive Officer for the Minneapolis SWAT Team Beats a Man Into a Coma | 

    […] Posted: June 25th, 2012 by Militant Libertarian by The Agitator […]

  44. #44 | » Blog Archive » Off-Duty Executive Officer for the Minneapolis SWAT Team Beats a Man Into a Coma | 

    […] by The Agitator […]