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."

While Clem Sr. had retired from boxing in 1980, the sport remained an obsession. In 1989, he opened a gym of his own, BT Bombers, initially in partnership with former Minnesota Viking Joey Browner, then later with Wayne Bebeau, a local businessman and boxing enthusiast. For a spell, St. Paul police recruits trained at BT Bombers, with Tucker providing instruction. The gym also became an epicenter of St. Paul's amateur boxing scene. Tucker, assuming the role of Gym Sage, preached an anti-drug gospel and earned a reputation for reaching out to the hardest cases. "The more trouble a kid was in, the harder he tried," Bebeau remembers.

When CJ took up boxing, Bebeau managed and Clem Sr. trained. The three traveled the Midwestern and Southern fight circuits, racking up the wins and building up the young middleweight. "Clem Sr. worshipped CJ," Bebeau says. "He worked hard at making sure that Clem Jr. had everything that he wanted. Probably gave him a little too much."

In his days at Como Park High School, Clem Jr. had flourished. Charismatic and handsome, he was a standout in track, first saxophone in the school band, and a state champion wrestler, earning a scholarship to the University of Minnesota. As his father would later put it, "Clem wasn't a star. He was an all-star."

At home, young CJ was an object of adoration, a golden child. "People always say parents don't have a favorite child, but that's not true," says Clem Sr. "Clem Jr. was my wife's favorite. My daughters always talk about it. They say, 'We're all grown now. We don't have to lie. Everybody knows Clem is your favorite child.'"

For Clem Sr., having a son represented a chance to set right what had gone wrong in his own childhood. "I always wanted to do things for him my father never did for me," he explains. "I stayed close to him to keep him out of trouble. We were like one."

Through boxing, father and son forged an even tighter bond. Although Clem Jr. didn't put on his first pair of gloves until he turned 19, he quickly won three Upper Midwest Golden Gloves titles and turned pro in 1994.

Three years later, the Star Tribune profiled CJ in an article headlined, "The Fighter Is Picture Perfect." In admiring tones, the piece paid tribute to Tucker's forays into modeling (he had appeared on the cover of Minnesota Law & Politics) and acting (he had landed a supporting role in the indie flick Shimmer).

But soon after the story appeared, CJ started drifting. He lost the biggest fight of his career against former International Boxing Federation champ Paul Vaden. He also began drinking more heavily and putting on weight. Then he became mired in a bitter custody dispute with his daughter's mother.

"His nose got opened so wide, he couldn't hold a decent booger," Clem Sr. recalls. "He lost focus on what he was doing. I think that was the start of his demise."

 

IN 1999, CJ had his last pro fight at a low-rent casino show in Keshena, Wisconsin. It was an unglamorous capstone to a once-promising career—a six-round decision victory over an opponent who came into the ring with a record of 7 wins and 77 losses.

"After he lost interest in boxing, that's when the problems started," says Bebeau. "The drinking. The womanizing. The changing jobs all the time."

Since he was a kid, CJ had dreamed of following his father into policing. For a spell, he worked as a parking enforcement officer in St. Paul—a common stepping-stone to the police force. Then he landed a part-time gig with a security company called Icon Protection Services. He also worked in a cubicle at US Bank.

Then, at the age of 27, CJ made a dramatic decision: Against his father's wishes, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. In 2003, he was called up for active duty and shipped to the Middle East, where he served in Kuwait and Iraq for nine months.

After his discharge in September 2003, CJ wasn't the same. He says he couldn't rid himself of certain memories—-the stench of human corpses, the clouds of flies, the sight of an Iraqi oil thief whose head had been split open by a .50-caliber round.

"Something was wrong, we could all tell. He wasn't playful like he used to be. He had a blank look," Clem Sr. says, recalling that CJ would monopolize the dinner table conversation with talk of Iraq. "I'd tell him, 'Clem, nobody wants to hear about it.'"

CJ endured other traumas as well. Near the end of his military service, he and Nikki suffered the death of their newborn son, Tristan, from a respiratory disease—a subject that CJ says is still too painful to talk about.

The return to US Bank didn't help. Instead of working at a computer, Tucker found himself stuffing envelopes. Even that proved too stressful.

"I was wound too tight. Things didn't roll off me," he says. "Going back to US Bank, when conflict arose, I was thinking of breaking necks."

Not long after, Tucker quit that job. For a war-weary veteran looking for a more tranquil life, his next move seems odd. He committed himself to a career as a bodyguard and bar bouncer. In 2004, he toured the U.S. and Europe with the R&B star Usher. When he was in the Twin Cities, he worked part-time at Johnny A's 200 Club, a popular black nightspot in north Minneapolis.

Tucker says his decision to work in such conflict-rich environments is not as strange as it seems. As a military policeman in Iraq, he had to interpret body language and read people for signs of violent intent. In security work, he says, he drew on the same skill set. "I was in a comfort zone. It was a different type of stress than the corporate world. I could kind of dictate how things were going to go. I could see things coming."

At Johnny A's, he developed a reputation for being polite and professional. At the end of shifts, he escorted female bartenders to their cars.

There was another thing a lot of people at Johnny A's noticed about Clem Jr.: Unlike the vast majority of bar bouncers, Tucker wore a bulletproof vest to work. A permit holder, he virtually always carried a sidearm—a .45 or a 9 mm, sometimes both.

Behind the coolheaded facade, Clem Jr. was troubled. He'd been arrested three times and convicted once on drunken driving charges. After nine months of sobriety in Iraq, he wasn't drinking as heavily as in the past. But he did seek relief in another pursuit: women.

Although he was engaged at the time, Tucker considered himself a single man. To his way of thinking, he was free to keep women on the side. "When I came back, I just wanted to live my life as much as I could," he says. "I made moral mistakes. I shouldn't have been messing with other women when I had a good woman at home."

 

ONE NIGHT IN January 2005, CJ was hanging out at Johnny A's on his night off when he met a 27-year-old woman named Angelina Garley.

"She was extremely beautiful. Dressed like a lady. Acted like a lady," he recalls. "When we talked, we had good intellectual conversations."

For Garley, the chunky ex-Marine must have seemed like a fresh start. After an eight-year relationship that had culminated in marriage and two children, Angelina and her husband, Nehemiah Garley, parted ways. The breakup turned nasty, with Nehemiah getting a restraining order. After she was convicted of disorderly conduct, Angelina enrolled in the Homefree Domestic Abuse Intervention Program.

Angela Kasperzick, an administrative assistant at Homefree, described Angelina as "a sweet, sweet girl." But Kasperzick saw signs of trouble with Angelina's new boyfriend, CJ. Once, Garley had called her to complain that her ex-husband had removed "one shoe of every pair." By the time Kasperzick arrived, CJ was angry. He brandished a gun, saying he needed to protect the family from Nehemiah.

It wasn't long before Angelina and CJ began fighting. On May 11, Angelina called Brooklyn Park police, claiming that CJ had vandalized her Isuzu Axiom after an argument over her ex-husband. Rosemary Bradley, Angelina's stepmother, said her daughter thought CJ was a nice guy, "but a bit suffocating." Theresa Saunders, Angelina's twin sister, recalled that Garley was scared of CJ's temper. "She wasn't afraid of men, but she was afraid of him."

By late June, Angelina and CJ were exchanging text messages seething with recriminations and suspicions of infidelity. On June 19, Angelina discovered a message from a Pennsylvania woman named Amanda Knight, who had met CJ when he was on tour with Usher in Pittsburgh.

Angelina phoned Knight, identifying herself as CJ's girlfriend. The two women talked. Knight, who believed she was "in an exclusive relationship," decided to spill the details to her romantic rival.

After Angelina confronted CJ, he texted back an accusation of his own: "I seen enough, you've still been exchanging numbers with other men and lying to me about it. I'm done being humiliated, lied to, cheated on, and played."

A few minutes later, he sent a follow-up: "All I wanted to do is love you, but you've proven that you're not ready for it." Angelina responded with an appeal for reconciliation: "You showed me that I can love again. Please talk to me. I'm hurting really bad."

Later, Angelina seemed resigned, texting: "OK, I, too, give up. I am tired too. Sorry to waste your time. If I didn't LOVE YOU or CARE then I wouldn't be breaking my neck trying to talk to you. Hope your day gets a lot better. Love you."

By June 23, the two seemed to have reconciled. They spent the afternoon together at North Commons Water Park, along with Angelina's 12-year-old son and CJ's 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old niece.

That night, CJ reported to work at Johnny A's. At 11:33, he called Angelina. When she didn't pick it up, he sent her a text message: "Watcha doin'?"

"Being a good girl," Angelina texted back. "I'm making my way there."

An hour later, Angelina joined two friends for shots of tequila at Stand Up Franks, a bar located a block north of Johnny As. Not long after, the trio joined CJ at Johnny A's.

At about 2:30 a.m., Angelina and CJ left the bar together—Angelina in a white Acura Legend, CJ following in his mother's burgundy Mountaineer. As the two cars traveled north on I-94, a series of strange calls were made from Angelina's cell phone. The caller dialed an insurance adjuster who'd recently done business with Angelina, the Homefree domestic abuse program, and a work number for Angelina's stepmother. It was as if someone was trying to catch Angelina cheating.

 

THE FIRST CALL to Brooklyn Park police came in at 2:44 a.m. A homeowner reported hearing a loud popping sound, followed by a woman's scream, the squeal of tires, and a short blast from a car horn.

Within minutes, two officers arrived at the 2100 block of 73rd Avenue, where they found a white Acura Legend parked askew, the driver's door ajar, a bullet hole in the windshield. A woman, slumped behind the wheel, was alive but unresponsive. She'd been shot under the right breast.

"I noticed her stomach was enlarged and did not know if she was pregnant or if the blood had run into her stomach and bloated her up," one officer wrote in his report.

At North Memorial Hospital, doctors determined that the woman, identified as Angelina Garley of Brooklyn Park, was not pregnant. As they frantically tried to locate the slug from the .45 that had lodged in her spine, she continued to bleed heavily. At 3:34 a.m., she was pronounced dead.

Because Angelina had previously called the police on CJ, investigators quickly focused on him as a suspect. By early morning, Brooklyn Park cops contacted Clem Sr. looking for his son.

At 9:04 a.m., Clem Sr. called his son and urged him to surrender. An hour and a half later, with his father and fiancée standing by, CJ walked out of his St. Louis Park apartment and dropped to his knees. Less than a month later, he was formally charged with Angelina Garley's killing.

On February 21, while he was awaiting trial in the Hennepin County Jail, CJ and his longtime fiancée , Darla Hagen, got married. They had much reason to celebrate—CJ was a father again, another baby boy. "The judge was nice enough to let me touch my son," CJ says.

Two months later, CJ appeared in Hennepin County District Court, where he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

 

THESE DAYS, CJ doesn't much resemble the lithe middleweight from the family photo collections. He weighs 230 pounds, a far cry from his prime fighting weight of 154. He bulked up in the Marines, he says, settling uneasily into a seat in the cavernous interview room of the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater.

"The days of a guy coming into a maximum prison in Minnesota and getting huge are over," he says. "They don't have free weights here. Took 'em out a long time before I arrived."

Now in the second year of a 19-year prison sentence, he can qualify for release in 2018. Until then, he says, he just wants to keep his nose clean. He works in the prison wood shop, where he's honing his carpentry skills.

Since his arrest, CJ has made no public statements about the killing of Angelina Garley. "When you take a plea, you never get a chance to say what happened," he says.

He disputes the official version of events, which suggests that he shot Angelina in a jealous rage after scrolling through her cell phone. While he acknowledges that the two had traded phones, he says he doesn't recall making any calls on her cell.

But he concedes that his night with Garley got off to a rocky start. When she first arrived at Johnny A's, he says, he made an ill-considered crack about her mussed hair. She became angry. He apologized.

Before they got into their respective vehicles, Garley asked to borrow his cell phone, Tucker says. "I let her have it, thinking I'd blocked all the numbers so she couldn't see them anyway."

CJ followed Angelina as she turned off I-94 an exit early. When he pulled up beside her to ask what was wrong, she cursed him, CJ says. At that point, he says, he was mainly worried what she might do to his cell phone, which he needed for business. "Understand, at this time I didn't have a driver's license, so I didn't want to have to chase her all around the city."

When he stepped out of his truck, Angelina accelerated, CJ claims. She was going to run him over. "I just reacted, drew my weapon and fired," he says. "I think it was a direct response to the training I had in the military. We do quick draw tactics and things like that."

CJ says he didn't realize he had hit Angelina. "I'm thinking she's going to say I fired a weapon and I'm going to jail," Tucker says. "I would have never left her if I knew she was shot."

Brooklyn Park Police Department Detective Chuck Ryan, the lead investigator on the case, is not impressed by CJ's claim of self-defense. He argues that CJ's smeared handprint on the hood of the Acura suggests Angelina was backing up—not speeding forward—when the shot was fired.

But Ryan considered more than just the physical evidence. Over the course of his investigation, he retrieved nearly 3,000 text messages from CJ's cell phone provider. After contacting many women from that database, Ryan emerged with an unflattering view of his lead suspect.

"I learned that Clem Jr. seemed to be a nice and easy-going person when things were going his way. If they weren't, he could turn on a dime," Ryan says. "He was a player and he was very possessive. It seems like it was okay if he played around, but it wasn't okay if anyone else did."

 

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.

"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.

Evidently, U.S. District Court Judge Joann Ericksen was impressed. Given the quantity of drugs involved, she could have issued a life sentence. Instead, she gave Clem Sr. five years and levied no fine. "I wish you well," she told him. "You have a lot of people who respect you and look up to you."

In court, Tucker wept and apologized, but he says there's more to his story.

"The feds told me they had a line of people who were gonna testify to my drug dealing," Clem Sr. says. "I said, 'Don't say that to me. I ain't no fucking drug dealer.'"

He is indignant about certain particulars of his case. He claims he never threatened the security guard at the Greyhound Station. And while he knew he was smuggling drugs—"I knew they weren't cookies," as he puts it—he insists he no idea it was such a large amount.

He also believes the case against him should have been thrown out on the basis of wrongful search. "If I laid a hundred grand on some lawyer's desk, I'd be walking right now," Tucker says. "The truth will not set you free. You have enough money, that will set you free."

He takes a breath and sighs. "We're good people who ran into some bad luck," he says. "It ain't nothing like what people think."

Neither Minneapolis narcotics investigators nor the U.S. Attorney's Office are commenting on Tucker's case. Nor will he discuss the details of his crime, citing the possible repercussions for his family members. "You don't mess with the cartel," he says.

Clem Sr. insists he committed his crime for one reason and one reason only: He had borrowed money from "the wrong people" to raise money for his son's legal defense. When he couldn't repay that debt, he says, he had no choice but to do what he was told and suffer the consequences.

"When your kid falls off a boat, you don't think about whether you can swim," he says. "You jump in and try to save him."

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