David Clifford, Mpls SWAT team leader, convicted of felony assault [VIDEO]

Clifford will be sentenced on May 29. He faces up to seven and a half years in prison.
Clifford will be sentenced on May 29. He faces up to seven and a half years in prison.

On Saturday, an Anoka County jury found Minneapolis SWAT team executive officer David Clifford guilty of two counts of felony assault and another count of misdemeanor assault.

-- David Clifford's motion to dismiss charges denied; will stand trial for near-fatal punch
-- Brian Vander Lee, victim of David Clifford's one-punch near-homicide, is home, in bad shape
-- David Clifford, alleged sucker-punch cop, used to work security at a bar

Last June 16, Clifford, 48, nearly killed Star Tribune advertising employee Brian Vander Lee with a single punch to the head on the patio of Tanners Bar in Andover.

Vander Lee's head hit the pavement. He spent 40 days on life support and endured three brain surgeries. He says his cognitive abilities still aren't what they were before the punch, with his speech and hearing remaining particularly affected.

Clifford claims he struck in self-defense after Vander Lee rose from his chair to confront him. Before the confrontation, the two had been arguing from their respective tables. Clifford approached Vander Lee's table because he was upset about Vander Lee's allegedly drunk and obnoxious behavior, but the jury determined that Clifford's actions amounted to assault, not self-defense.

Here's the surveillance camera footage of the incident:

Clifford, a 19-year veteran of the MPD, likely faces five to seven years in prison. According to the Star Tribune, convicted felons are not eligible to hold a Minnesota peace officer license. He was placed on paid administrative leave after he was arrested and remains employed with the MPD for now, but a statement released by MPD chief Janeé Harteau after the verdict was announced suggests Clifford might be out of a job soon:

"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. Clifford's actions that day should not negatively reflect our officers and I ask the public for their continued support and confidence in the women and men of the Minneapolis Police Department who serve our community each day with professionalism, commitment, and integrity."

Anoka County prosecutor Blair Buccicone talked to Vander Lee right after the jury's verdict was revealed.

"[Vander Lee] always just wanted it over. If you think about it, your whole life changes, you're thrown into the public eye, there's a video," Buccicone said, according to the Pioneer Press. "Some of the things that were being said about him on message boards and things like that were just awful. He just feels relief. He hasn't been vindictive at all."

Clifford's attorney argued the jury should give his client the benefit of the doubt because of his law enforcement training and experience. But Buccicone pointed out that Clifford didn't need to resort to violence to deal with Vander Lee.

"Clifford could have walked away. He could have complained to the [bar manager]. He could have moved tables," Buccicone said, according to the PiPress. "It's convenient to rely on your training after the fact, after you've talked to your attorney."

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