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David Clifford, alleged sucker-punching Mpls police sergeant, claims self-defense

Surveillance video from Tanners bar seems to show Minneapolis SWAT team executive officer David Clifford hauling off and punching Brian Vander Lee on Saturday evening for no good reason. But Clifford argues there was more to the incident than what can be seen on tape.

Yesterday, Clifford was charged with third-degree assault, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. But in a criminal complaint, Clifford argues that he struck Vander Lee in self-defense.

Clifford told police that he asked fellow patio patron Vander Lee to stop using offensive language. Vander Lee reportedly stopped for a time, but when he started up again, Clifford approached his table. Once he got there, he came to believe that Vander Lee might strike him, so Clifford decided to take matters in his own hands and punch Vander Lee first.

After punching Vander Lee, Clifford ran across the street and was picked up by his wife, he told police. Officers arrived at his home to question him that night, but Clifford refused to answer the door and didn't turn himself in until the next day. He's been placed on paid administrative leave and remained in jail Monday evening.

The Pioneer Press reports that during his 19 years with the MPD, Clifford has twice been awarded the Medal of Valor, the department's second-highest honor. He's also received two Merit Awards and was nominated for three others. But he was also one of three Minneapolis SWAT team officers named as defendants in a civil rights lawsuit brought by a woman who was eventually awarded $1 million after being severely burned by a flash-bang grenade during a botched 2010 drug raid.

Meanwhile, Vander Lee remains in bad shape after sustaining a serious brain injury that required two surgeries on Sunday, but his condition has reportedly improved slightly. According to the PiPress, Vander Lee wiggled his toes and gave doctors a thumbs-up yesterday, and should be breathing on his own again soon.

Previous coverage:
-- David Clifford, Mpls police sergeant, in jail after nearly killing man with alleged bar sucker punch


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