David Clifford, one-punch near-homicide cop, seeks to have charges dropped today
Clifford's attorney argues charges should be dropped because an investigator tried to manipulate two witnesses.
If David Clifford and his defense attorney have their way, by the end of the day, Clifford will have been cleared on any criminal wrongdoing for nearly killing Brian Vander Lee with a sucker punch at Tanner's Station in Andover last June 16.
Attorney Fred Bruno has filed a motion requesting the the first- and third-degree assault charges facing the Minneapolis SWAT team executive officer be dropped because an investigator tried to manipulate witnesses into giving statements favorable to the prosecution. A judge will respond to that motion during a hearing today.
Anoka County Detective Thomas Strusinski interviewed a couple who were with Clifford at Tanner's and saw the incident unfold. The couple claimed Vander Lee had gotten out of his chair before Clifford blasted him, but during the interview, Strusinski questioned that claim, saying the surveillance video didn't back it up.
You can watch the actual surveillance video here. Indeed, it shows Vander Lee getting out of his chair before Clifford punches him, but doesn't appear to indicate Vander Lee made any sort of aggressive action toward Clifford. In July, Bruno argued the footage shows Vander Lee moving his left arm before Clifford swings, which in his mind means Clifford was simply defending himself.
Anoka County officials told the Pioneer Press they don't think Bruno's motion to dismiss charges because of Strusinski's tactics will pass muster in court today:
Assistant Anoka County Attorney Blair Buccicone called the defense's motion "baseless."
"In my experience, Detective Strusinski is an excellent peace officer who has gone without a complaint during his entire 18-year law enforcement career," Buccicone said.
A spokesman with the Anoka County sheriff's office also dismissed the claims.
"Attacking the investigation and the investigator is a common tactic ... needless to say ... we are confident that the defense's motion will be denied," said Cmdr. Paul Sommer.
Bruno has also filed an affidavit signed by Patrick Erickson, a former Washington County deputy and owner of Law Enforcement Tactical Training Association. In the document, Erickson makes a case that Clifford's swing was in self-defense. If the case goes to trial, Bruno also plans to argue Vander Lee's 0.189 blood-alcohol level indicates he was wasted when Clifford socked him, the PiPress reports.
The force of the blow caused Vander Lee's head to bounce off concrete, causing a severe brain injury. Vander Lee underwent multiple brain surgeries and two weeks after the incident was still having trouble speaking and suffering from short- and long-term memory loss.
Today's dismissal-of-charges hearing is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. The first-degree assault change could land Clifford in prison for 20 years, so there's lot at stake.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.