The Fall of the House of Tucker

After his son committed murder, a retired St. Paul cop had to choose between blood and justice

AT ABOUT THREE O'CLOCK on the morning of June 24, 2005, Clem Tucker Jr., a 33-year-old bar bouncer and former Marine, showed up at the St. Louis Park apartment of his pregnant fiancée, Darla "Nikki" Hagen. Tucker was in trouble and he knew it. "Run the shower," he shouted to Nikki as he hurriedly placed a call to the Minnesota State Patrol. When the dispatcher came on the line, Tucker claimed that one of his handguns—a Sig Sauer P220—seemed to have been lost or stolen that very night. The dispatcher told him he needed to file a report in person.

"I understand that," Tucker responded. "But I just want to make sure I'm not liable if anything happens with that weapon."

After changing into fresh clothes—a blue sweatshirt, sweat pants, and Nike sneakers—Tucker left the apartment with Nikki and drove to a nearby gas station, where he called his father and namesake, Clem Tucker Sr.

It was no surprise that the younger Tucker—"CJ" to friends and family—would turn to his father in a crisis. The two had always enjoyed a close bond. But CJ had another reason: Clem Sr. had served for 23 years as a sworn officer with the St. Paul Police Department. If anyone could find a way out this jam, CJ must have thought, it would be his dad.

Once inside the Tucker family home, a '70s-style split level located in the Summit-University neighborhood, they descended the half-flight of stairs to the den, the room where Clem Sr. has spent most of his time since his retirement from the St. Paul Police Department in 1998. Father and son talked privately for about 20 minutes, Nikki later told investigators, before Clem Sr. gave the young couple a ride back to St. Louis Park.

When police asked Clem Sr. about the conversation in the den, he insisted that Clem Jr. had confided that he was in "really bad trouble." After hearing that, Clem Sr. says, he gave his son some blunt advice: "Oh, don't tell me nothing. Don't say nothing. Get yourself an attorney."

 

CLEM TUCKER JR. was born on January 18, 1972. At that time, Clem Sr. was 20, already a father once, and recently divorced. After his first marriage failed, Tucker had returned to rural Arkansas to visit his grandparents' farm, where he spent a chunk of his boyhood. A girl named Dorothy grew up across the lane. The two soon became reacquainted and Tucker spent a year wooing his soon-to-be second wife.

Clem Sr.'s childhood was nothing like the one he and his wife Dorothy hoped to give their firstborn son. His memories of his birth mother, Vessie Tucker, consist of impressionistic flashes of spoiled food and cold floors. By the time Clem hit first grade, Vessie moved to Chicago, vanishing from his life. Robert Howard Tucker, his father, was a talented transmission mechanic, Clem says, but illiterate, with a temper and a weakness for alcohol.

Eventually, Robert remarried and moved Clem and his two sisters to a housing project in Omaha.

"I was kind of the black sheep," Clem Sr. recalls. "My stepmom used to tell my dad, 'Something is wrong with this boy! You need to beat his ass!'"

By the time Clem Sr. reached his teens, he had become accustomed to being belted with left hooks and whipped with extension cords. Tired of the abuse, he ran away from home. It was then that he discovered boxing.

Clem Sr. took to the sport with gusto, winning several Golden Gloves titles and a reputation as a slick, durable southpaw. After high school, he turned pro and relocated to St. Paul to forge a new life.

Although his career as a pro boxer was burgeoning, the purses were paltry. With a new wife and growing family, Clem Sr. needed a more stable means of support. So in 1975, he joined the St. Paul Police Department. The department was just beginning to integrate, and Tucker says the adjustment was difficult. "There were probably three or four black cops, out of about 300, so we caught a lot of racial animosity."

At the outset of his career, Clem Sr. patrolled the Selby-Dale neighborhood.St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington, who joined the force in a second wave of black hires, says Tucker had a reputation as a tough street cop. "He was real aggressive," Harrington recalls. "He liked catching bad guys and his reputation as a boxer preceded him in the neighborhood." It was no secret, Harrington adds, that Tucker had trouble with the management aspects of police work.

For his part, Tucker was less interested in rising through the ranks than in becoming a K-9 officer, an ambition he finally realized after a decade on the force.

But four years later, when his dog escaped and was struck by a car, Clem Sr. was reassigned. It was a bitter setback for Tucker, who thought seriously about quitting the force. A couple of cop buddies talked him out of it. "They told me that it wasn't the end of the world and that I should find something else I'm passionate about and put my energy and paycheck into something I love."

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