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 12:30 P.M. on June 2, 2006, Clem Tucker Sr. showed up at the Greyhound Bus Terminal in downtown Minneapolis. At the baggage counter, he identified himself as "John Mason"—the name of a man who'd married his former mistress. He told the clerk that he'd come to collect some luggage shipped from Fresno, California. But he didn't have identification—he explained that he'd lost it in a fracas with the law in Kansas City, "because he was running his mouth too much."

Tim Morin, a 25-year-old security guard from Coon Rapids, escorted Clem Sr. to the cargo area. Clem Sr. identified the two items—a large box with a "U-Haul" stamp, and an Eddie Bauer suitcase—but Morin said he couldn't release the luggage without proper ID.

Morin asked what was in the U-Haul box.

Robin Eley

"My son just got back from Iraq and there is just military equipment inside it," Clem Sr. replied.

As Morin began to open the package, Tucker reached into the Eddie Bauer bag and pulled out a photograph of a uniformed cop with a German shepherd. "That's me in the picture," Clem Sr. said, taking off his sunglasses.

When Morin asked where the military equipment was, Tucker bailed. Morrin followed as Tucker walked across the lot to a 1999 Chrysler 300M, where a 34-year-old Asian guy waited in the passenger seat. According to Morrin, Tucker made a threatening motion with his hands like he was cocking a gun, climbed in the car, and sped off.

Alarmed, Morin called Minneapolis police and opened the U Haul box. Inside, he found table legs that appeared to be hollowed out. They contained "sand or some other granulated substance," Morin told police.

After the first officer arrived, a Greyhound employee pried the table leg open with a hammer and screwdriver. Inside was a plastic bag containing a brick of a white, powdery substance. Cops searched the rest of the U Haul box and the Eddie Bauer bag, finding a total of 12 pounds of methamphetamine and 22 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $4 million.

Morin had written down Clem Sr.'s license plate. Within a few days, narcotics investigators executed a search warrant at Tucker's St. Paul home. They didn't turn up anything. Clem Sr. had gone into hiding.

On June 6, Clem Sr. called the non-emergency line of the St. Paul police. He told the operator he wanted to turn himself in, but that his life was in danger. Then he hung up.

The following day, a little after noon, Tucker surrendered to a sheriff's deputy outside the Hennepin County Jail. His wife, Dorothy, asked for permission to hug her husband, and then he was loaded into an unmarked police cruiser.

"I just want to let you know, brother to brother, that this isn't what it appears to be," he told one of the cops. Tucker, who had developed a passion for flying in recent years, added a bittersweet comment. "I wish I were flying right now. I guess I won't be flying for a long time."

For his former colleagues on the St. Paul Police Department, Tucker's arrest was a shock. "Something horrible had to have happened for him to go this far off the rails," says Police Chief Harrington. "Whether he was somebody's middleman or pawn, I don't know. But the Clem Tucker I know is not some criminal mastermind who would be organizing a cartel."

AS HE PADS downstairs to his den—"his nest," he calls it—Clem Sr. looks more homebody than drug runner. A colossal television set dominates the room, topped by a stack of tapes, including some of CJ's fights. Clem Sr. points out an oak rocking horse that sits in the corner. "CJ made that," he says proudly.

Inspecting the wall calendar, Tucker shakes his head glumly. Only two more chances to sing at Arnellia's. For months, Tucker has been trying to work up the nerve to perform at karaoke night, but the prospect of singing anywhere outside the shower scares him. "I keep a list in my pocket in case I ever get drunk enough to sing," he says. "Before I go in, I'm gonna do that. It's something I have to overcome."

Like a lot of people who've spent too much time in doctors' offices, he ticks off past and current maladies like he's reading from a grocery list: sleep apnea, colon cancer, hypertension, bad knee, bad rotator cuff, bad arm, kidney disease. "These kidneys ain't gonna last," he says. "They're only working 50 percent right now. I'm going to need a transplant. So if you know anyone who has a kidney laying around the garage, hook a brother up."

After a morning of paging through his photo albums and reminiscing, Tucker walks over to the garden-level window, draws the curtain aside, and peers outside. When you lose $4 million worth of someone else's drugs, you never know who might pay a visit.

Like his son, Clem Sr. took a deal, pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of attempt to possess narcotics with intent to distribute. Before his sentencing, Tucker solicited letters of support from his numerous friends, many of whom offered praise. "Mr. Tucker is an example of the old adage that says, 'Good people can do bad things,'" wrote prominent St. Paul obstetrician Charles Crutchfield.

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