A Maplewood man is suing the St. Paul Police Department for $400,000, alleging officers used excessive force during a recent incident in Lowertown.

Anthony Clark Jr., 25, has more than 20 staples in his head, a bruised chest and peeling skin on his face after his arrest early Sept. 26 in an alley near the Station 4 bar.

He says it's because officers used unreasonable force. Police say he attacked them and the force was justified.

Both sides agree officers sprayed a chemical irritant at Clark and hit him with flashlights after a chain of events that started in the bar. But their versions of those events differ widely.

The suit, which Clark's lawyer said was filed Monday in federal court, is against 15 unnamed officers.

Police spokesman Andy Skoogman had not seen the suit and had no comment on it.

The incident is under "administrative review" -- officials are going over reports to make sure policies and procedures were followed, Skoogman said.

According to police and the criminal complaint, which includes two charges against Clark:

Police were checking in at the bar as part of regular patrol duties and were asked by bar employees to help quell a squabble involving Clark's fiancée, another woman and a bartender.

Clark saw an officer escorting his fiancée out of the bar and pushed the officer. The officer warned Clark not to touch him or his fiancée, and then Clark pushed him again and cursed at him. The officer tried to grab Clark, but Clark held his fist as if he were going to punch.

A second officer tackled Clark, who kicked and flailed and got up to run. An officer fired a Taser dart at him, but missed.

Officers found Clark in the alley, but he lunged at them when told to put his hands behind his back. He hid his hands and kicked, which caused officers to fear for their safety. Chemical irritant didn't calm him down. Two officers used their flashlights to strike him, and a third used his knee. He was then taken to Regions Hospital. One officer received cuts and bruises.

But Clark and his attorney, Paul Applebaum, tell a different story. According to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by the Star Tribune and interviews with Clark and Applebaum:

Near the end of the evening, Clark saw his fiancée being confronted by officers. He put his hand on his fiancée's elbow and told the officers they would leave. Clark said he was not drunk or confrontational.

An officer then pushed Clark toward the bar's front door, he said, and a second officer shot at him with a Taser dart but missed. Clark ran and hid in an alley.

When he later stepped forward to reveal himself to officers, Clark was hit in the back of the head with a flashlight. He said he was surrounded by at least three officers and beaten and hit with flashlights. Then an officer "emptied a can" of chemical irritant at point-blank range, according to the lawsuit.

Clark said he was handcuffed and walked to a squad car with his shirt over his head so witnesses, including many of his friends, wouldn't see what happened. He was taken to Regions and then spent two days in the Ramsey County jail.

The actions were "purely punitive and constituted deadly force where no threat to officer safety or the public existed," according to the complaint.

"Where in the St. Paul police policy manual is it written that you can club an unarmed and compliant man in the back of the head five or more times with Maglite flashlights?" Applebaum asked.

Clark has been charged with obstructing legal process with force, a gross misdemeanor, and fleeing on foot, a misdemeanor.

Clark has no criminal record. The suit alleges false and misleading police reports.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148