This undated photo provided by Mike Archambault shows Brian Vander Lee, 43, of Ramsey, left, and his wife, Kourtney Vander Lee.

Mike Archambault, Associated Press - Ap

Minneapolis police Sgt. David Clifford

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Man punched by off-duty Minneapolis officer tells of pain

  • Article by: David Chanen
  • Star Tribune
  • April 11, 2013 - 3:58 PM

Brian Vander Lee no longer recognizes himself.

Ten months after he was punched in the jaw by an off-duty Minneapolis police sergeant at a bar/restaurant and after several brain surgeries, Vander Lee, 44, said his memory can’t retain stories his young daughters told him the previous week.

He has constant headaches and his hearing and vision have deteriorated, he said Wednesday during the trial of David Clifford, 46, who is charged with first-degree assault in the incident at Tanners Station in Andover.

The defense argues Clifford acted in self-defense, an assertion his wife made when she took the stand later Wednesday in the Anoka courtroom.

Vander Lee said that he also has trouble speaking at times and that his sense of taste and smell have changed. As he told of the impact of the incident, he started to cry.

“Why are you crying now?” Assistant Anoka County Attorney C. Blair Buccicone asked.

“Because it was horrible,” Vander Lee said.

The incident occurred in June on the patio of Tanners Station. Vander Lee was there playing bingo with family in the afternoon and later joined his fiancée and brother.

David Clifford and his wife, Kellie, were meeting another couple for drinks and planning National Night Out events for their block.

Prosecutors argue that Vander Lee, who was intoxicated, was punched by Clifford unprovoked and that Clifford fled the scene. Vander Lee’s head hit the concrete floor. In court Thursday, he said he didn’t remember anything that happened on the patio.

During her testimony, Kellie Clifford said that her husband repeatedly asked Vander Lee to stop using vulgar language and slurs. At one point, she said, Vander Lee slammed down his cellphone, stood up and began to swing his left hand at Clifford. In self-defense, her husband punched him, she said.

Clifford ran to a nearby parking lot because he feared a confrontation with Vander Lee’s brother and friend, she said. They did catch up with him, breaking two ribs and giving him a concussion, the defense has said.

She testified for more than an hour, keeping her composure most of the time. But in a final cross-examination by prosecutor Robert Goodell, she argued that her husband was being treated differently because he is a police officer. Clifford, a leader of the department’s SWAT team, is a decorated officer.

“He served his country. He has done incredible things,” she said. “He shouldn’t be prosecuted for self-defense. He was already convicted on TV the day after he was charged.”


David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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