Mpls. Cop Sentenced to Prison after Bar Punch

Updated: 07/12/2013 7:49 AM KSTP.com By: Todd Wilson

A former Minneapolis cop was sentenced Thursday, July 11, to more than three years in prison for punching a man at an Andover bar, causing the man severe brain damage.
A former Minneapolis cop was sentenced Thursday, July 11, to more than three years in prison for punching a man at an Andover bar, causing the man severe brain damage.

David Richard Clifford
David Richard Clifford
Photo: Photo: Anoka County Sheriff's Office

A former Minneapolis cop was sentenced Thursday, July 11, to more than three years in prison for punching a man at an Andover bar, causing the man severe brain damage.

An Anoka County jury found David Richard Clifford guilty of three assault charges for injuring the 44-year-old man. Clifford, 48, was a Minneapolis police SWAT team leader.

Clifford punched the man, identified as Brian Vander Lee, on June 16, 2012, at Tanner's Station, 13655 Martin St. N.W. Click here to watch video of the fight.

The man hit his head on the concrete patio, the county attorney's office stated. He had three brain surgeries, and has continued medical issues related to the injury.

In the criminal complaint, Clifford said he took offense to language Vander Lee was using and asked him to stop. Vander Lee allegedly continued using the language for another five to 10 minutes, and Clifford approached Vander Lee’s table a second time.

Clifford says Vander Lee then cursed and stood up from his chair, and fearing he was going to be hit, Clifford punched Vander Lee first, the complaint said.

On Thursday, Clifford's wife walked out of the courthouse shielding her face. Family and friends walked with her. She left knowing her husband was heading to prison.

Outside the courthouse, Vander Lee's friend Mike Archambault said he's frustrated about the sentence.

"A little disappointed, he serves 43 months and Brian is sentenced to this for the rest of his life," Archambault said.

The jury watched video of Vander Lee being assaulted by Clifford last summer. Clifford felt Vander Lee was acting out so prosecutors said he landed a sucker punch. It put Vander Lee in the hospital - a devastating blow his friends said changed him forever.

"He struggles everyday, struggles everyday tasks that wouldn't normally affect him," Archambault said. 

When Archambault was asked about Clifford apologizing to Vander Lee and his family, his friend said, "Of course he's going to be sorry now, he's looking at prison time."

Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo said it was a difficult case. Having to prosecute an officer is disappointing, he said.

"This is the result of people acting without controlling their temper. Many lives get affected forever," Palumbo said.

Following the jury verdict, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said, “This is truly a tragic situation for everyone involved. The actions of David Clifford, although off-duty at the time of the altercation, are not consistent with our department core values and high standards."

The jury found Clifford guilty of first-degree and third-degree assault, as well as a misdemeanor assault charge. Judge Lawrence Johnson presided over the two-week trial and later sentenced Clifford.

Clifford was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison, 14 months supervised release, and restitution charge of $3,375.