By Ami Forliti
MINNEAPOLIS — A Minneapolis police sergeant and SWAT officer — who was apparently angered by a loud cellphone conversation — was charged with assault Monday for allegedly punching a man in the head, seriously injuring him.
Minneapolis police Sgt. David Clifford, the executive officer of the Minneapolis Police SWAT unit, was in the Anoka County Jail on Monday. He is charged with third-degree assault, and is scheduled to make his first court appearance Tuesday.
"You wouldn't think a police officer would behave in this way," said Anoka County Sheriff's Cmdr. Paul Sommer. "It's kind of a shock to our system."
Sommer identified the victim as Brian Keith Vanderlee, 34, of Ramsey. The hospital was not providing information about Vanderlee's condition, but Sommer said that, as of Monday morning, Vanderlee was on life support and had undergone two brain surgeries.
Minneapolis Star Tribune spokesman Steve Yaeger said Monday evening that Vanderlee is an account executive in advertising sales at the newspaper, and spelled his last name as Vander Lee. A report in the newspaper also said that he is 43 years old.
The discrepancy in the spelling of Vanderlee's name and his age could not be resolved Monday evening.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Vander Lee family," Yaeger said.
Sommer said video surveillance from Saturday night shows that Clifford and Vanderlee were seated at adjacent patio tables at Tanners Station, a steakhouse and restaurant in Andover, a Minneapolis suburb.
Sommer said Vanderlee was apparently talking loudly on his cellphone to a friend when Clifford got up and approached him. Sommer said the video shows Clifford appeared to say something to Vanderlee, who was still on his phone.
As Vanderlee was about to get to his feet, Sommer said, "Clifford strikes him with a closed fist, just once in the head."
Vanderlee fell backward and may have hit his head on concrete, Sommer said.
"From what I saw, there was no fight," Sommer said. "It was a one-sided assault."
Clifford, 47, of Andover, fled on foot. He turned himself in Sunday afternoon.
According to the criminal complaint, Clifford told police he was at the bar with his wife and others to talk about National Night Out, and that he "took offense to some language" Vanderlee was using and asked him to stop.
Clifford told authorities Vanderlee stopped using the offensive language for five to 10 minutes, but started using it again. Clifford said he went over to Vanderlee, and when Vanderlee stood up and cursed, Clifford punched him, thinking he was going to be hit himself.
"The defendant admitted he did not de-escalate the situation by talking to employees or moving tables," the complaint said.
According to the complaint, employees of the bar did not hear Vanderlee use offensive language and heard no complaints that he had done so.
Clifford has been placed on home assignment, and there is an internal investigation, Minneapolis police spokesman Bill Palmer said.
Palmer said Clifford joined the Minneapolis department in 1993 and has been a SWAT officer since the mid-1990s. He has no disciplinary action in his file, and has received two medals of valor and other awards. He was promoted to sergeant in 2008.
He also has worked for the United Nations as a police officer in Kosovo, Palmer said.
The name of Clifford's attorney was not immediately known. The Anoka County Jail does not accept messages for inmates.
Jeff Baenen contributed to this report from Minneapolis.
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