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: