Video catches knockout punch from Sgt. David Clifford - FOX 10 News |

Video catches knock-out punch, Minneapolis cop's assault charge upgraded

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On Tuesday, the felony assault charges leveled against Minneapolis Police Sgt. David Clifford were upgraded from third to first degree in connection with the knock-out punch that put a bar patron in Andover on life support.

Clifford was charged after throwing a punch at Tanner's Station on June 16, hitting Brian Vander Lee during a dispute over a cell phone conversation. Vander Lee was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery for bleeding on his brain.

The altercation was caught on surveillance video taken with a cell phone camera, which shows Clifford approaching and punching Vander Lee in the mouth shortly thereafter.

FOX 9 News obtained the video and showed it to Cilfford's attorney, Fred Bruno, who said he feels the charges were upgraded in retaliation for his client maintaining his innocence.

Bruno also said Vander Lee was drunk, registering a .189 blood-alcohol concentration at the time. He contends that the brawl was instigated by intoxicated man who had been causing a disturbance -- but does the video footage back it up?

In the video, Vander Lee can be seen getting out of his chair shortly before he was hit. Bruno says he believes that aggressive act should exonerate Clifford, and admitted he is surprised they are going forward with the case.

Clifford is expected to return to court in Anoka County for his next appearance on Thursday.

Despite efforts to contact them, the Vander Lees did not return calls for comment on the video or upgraded charges.

Clifford told investigators he had been at another table on the patio with his wife when he heard Vander Lee using language he felt was inappropriate. When he confronted Vander Lee, Clifford said he was certain he was about to be hit and then threw a punch.

Vander Lee's friend, Mike Archambault, was speaking with the victim on the phone from the parking lot when the line suddenly went silent.

"He did a Superman punch," Archambault said. "Brian went back, feet up in the air, and the guy landed on top of him and his head bounced off the concrete."

Archambault told FOX 9 News he watched Clifford run off the patio and leave Vander Lee unconscious. At least 10 other people were also on the patio at the time -- including Vander Lee's wife, Kourtney.

FOX 9 News asked Bruno why his client ran from the scene, but he would only say that the answer to that question would become clear in time.

Clifford turned himself in to the Anoka County Jail with his lawyer by his side, and he admitted in a statement that he could have gone to an employee of the bar instead of making a scene.

Vander Lee was temporarily placed on life support due to his injuries, but he is now resting at home.

A benefit fund has been established to help Vander Lee with his medical expenses associated with his two brain surgeries. Donations to the Brian Vander Lee Benefit are accepted at any TCF Bank location.

According to Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. Bill Palmer, Sgt. Clifford has been a Minneapolis cop since 1993. Clifford has two Medal of Valor awards -- one of them for saving someone's life --and he has been nominated for the Merit Award five times. He has received the award twice. Clifford also previously served with the UN in Kosovo.

Yet, in addition to the awards and recognition, FOX 9 also learned Sgt. Clifford was part of an excessive force lawsuit stemming from an arrest in April 1995.

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