Anoka County jury watches video of punch at trial of off-duty Minneapolis officer

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2013 - 10:40 PM

Prosecutors reviewed the video from an Andover restaurant at the trial of an off-duty Minneapolis police officer charged with assault.

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SWAT team leader David Clifford in October 2012

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It began as “a relaxing Saturday,” a chance for family members to exchange pleasantries at a favorite bar-restaurant, Kourtney Vander Lee told jurors Friday.

It ended in chaos — witnessed in court by an Anoka County jury watching a surveillance video. The jury saw David Clifford, an off-duty Minneapolis SWAT team leader, walk to a neighboring table on the Tanners Station patio in Andover last June and punch Brian Vander Lee, who fell over and cracked his head on the concrete floor. Vander Lee, who is now 44, was rushed to the hospital for the first of three emergency brain surgeries.

Clifford, 48, is charged with first-degree assault. His attorney, Fred Bruno, has said repeatedly that Vander Lee stood up at his table, swung his left hand at Clifford and missed. But Bruno’s attempt to highlight that point did not come Friday.

Instead, the jury watched as prosecutors reviewed the surveillance video for nearly 90 minutes, pausing it often to ask Kourtney Vander Lee to describe what was happening.

Vander Lee — who was once married to Brian Vander Lee, lives with him and their children and is again his fiancée — said that she and Brian met with his mother and aunt after noon last June 16 at Tanners Station. They were joined by Brian’s brother Mike and continued to drink for hours after the two older women left.

The brothers were animated and loud, which is their nature, Kourtney Vander Lee said.

Brian Vander Lee’s blood alcohol level was 0.189 percent. Kourtney told the jury, under questioning from Bruno, that she, too, probably was legally drunk. Bruno noted that their tab showed 36 drinks had been served.

The video showed the servers at Tanners passing the Vander Lees’ table frequently. Prosecutor Blair Buccicone would point to the server and ask Kourtney Vander Lee if the server ever mentioned complaints from other tables about noise or abusive language. Vander Lee said repeatedly there were no complaints.

She said Clifford, who arrived at his patio table after 7 p.m., approached them “shouting to us to keep it down, watch our language,” she said. “We were taken aback.”

Kourtney Vander Lee said that minutes later, Brian Vander Lee was on the phone, asking a friend who was supposed to join them, “Where the hell are you, jackass?”

She said Clifford came over and tapped Brian Vander Lee on the shoulder.

“Leave us alone,” Kourtney Vander Lee recalled telling Clifford. “Go away.”

Within moments, Clifford hit Brian Vander Lee with a right. Vander Lee went down and Clifford ran.

Bruno’s cross-examination of Kourtney Vander Lee was short-lived. He, too, wanted to use the surveillance video, but prosecutors objected because he was using a different format which they said they hadn’t examined. The prosecutors were using a PC format. Bruno was using a Mac and said he felt “sandbagged” because he thought a pretrial arrangement had been agreed upon.

Judge Lawrence Johnson asked the attorneys to reach an agreement over the use of video formats before the trial resumes Monday.

 

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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