Former Minneapolis police officer David Clifford was given a jail term of 43 months after severely injuring fellow patron Brian Vander Lee with a punch on June 16, 2012, at a bar in Andover, Minn. Vander Lee, who fell backwards after being hit, cracked his head on the ground and needed three brain surgeries within weeks after the incident.
On the night of the assault, Clifford approached Vander Lee and told him to curb his loud and abusive language. Clifford, who was off-duty at the time of the incident, stated that Vander Lee, who was drunk, stood up and cocked his left arm and tried to throw a punch. Clifford then hit Vander Lee, who ended up in the hospital for weeks.
"It turns out I never took off my uniform [that night] ... I decided to be a cop when no police intervention was necessary," Clifford said. "I should have walked away."
The 43-month sentence handed down by Judge Lawrence Johnson in an Anoka County courtroom was less than the state sentencing guidelines, which recommended an 86-month sentence. Johnson noted that people make mistakes every day and he believed the 48-year-old Clifford was remorseful, but an officer’s career places a premium on being calm and keeping emotions in check.
Vander Lee, who reportedly was once known for his social skills and ease at making people laugh, now finds himself hiding out in corners at social events or sneaking out early. His brain injuries have also affected his connection with his four daughters.
"I find myself losing patience all the time ... I can't handle things like I used to," Vander Lee's statement said. "I can't answer their questions like I used to or handle the chaos I used to love so much."
More than a year after he was hit, Vander Lee still has piercing headaches and problems hearing. Scars and lumps cover his head from his multiple surgeries.
Clifford will have to serve two-thirds of his sentence, or about 28 months, and would be on supervised release for the remaining time.