Sgt. David Clifford, 47, executive officer of the SWAT unit, was to appear in Anoka County court Tuesday morning on a charge of third-degree felony assault …
Brian Vander Lee, 43, of Ramsey, who works in the Star Tribune advertising department, was in stable condition at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids on Monday afternoon and was breathing on his own, said Steven Engelhart, Vander Lee’s boss. A family spokesman said Vander Lee was moving his hands and feet and was no longer on life support.
According to the criminal complaint, a surveillance video shows that Vander Lee was sitting on the patio at Tanner’s Station in Andover with his wife and brother on Saturday evening when Clifford, who was sitting at the next table, confronted him. Vander Lee was on his cellphone when Clifford leaned over and began talking in his ear, said Anoka County Sheriff’s Commander Paul Sommer. Witnesses described it as a “verbal confrontation,” according to the criminal complaint.
Then Clifford struck Vander Lee in the mouth with his right fist, Sommer said the video showed. Vander Lee fell backward, his head hitting the pavement.
“This was not a fight in any sense of the word,” Sommer said. “This is a one-sided assault. Vander Lee is starting to stand up. Before he reaches his feet, Clifford has hit him.”
Balko notes that the Minneapolis PD is already on the case, making sure that people know what a great guy Sgt. Clifford is when he’s not putting people into a coma:
The Minneapolis Police Department initially went into defensive mode, noting that Clifford had received two medals of valor and “no sustained allegations on his disciplinary record.”
But what does it mean to have a medal of valor in the Minneapolis PD?
[T]his is the same Minneapolis Police Department that gave its SWAT team “medals of valor” for raiding the wrong house, resulting in a shootout with an innocent Hmong man. His wife and six children were in the house, which the police filled with at least 22 rounds.
And what about Clifford’s supposed clean record?
[T]he key word in that sentence is sustained. In this case, it merely means he hasn’t yet done anything so severe that even other cops and prosecutors were willing to hold him accountable.
And that, as they say, is the problem. Cases like this often create the illusion that our justice system has no issues with holding malfeasant officers accountable, because in this particular instance, Clifford was charged. But that says nothing about the unknown abuses that may have gone unanswered during Clifford’s tenure, because police protect their own and prosecutors are often unwilling to rock the boat by prosecuting the same officers they rely on to investigate their criminal cases.
It is to Clifford’s credit that he turned himself in. But given that this is not the first time Clifford has engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer, one can only wonder whether it was because he knew he screwed up, or because he knew that a room full of people saw him do it, and there was no way to hide behind the Blue Wall of Silence this time.
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