BY ART BUKOWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY —
Kipp Needham's actions still have his old bosses scratching their heads.
Needham, once a decorated deputy with the Grand Traverse Sheriff's Department, now works at Ward Eaton Towing. Sheriff Tom Bensley fired him in March after his June 2010 arrest on two counts of domestic violence, possession of a firearm while intoxicated and resisting a police officer causing injury.
The charges stemmed from a drunken incident in which Needham assaulted two female relatives, then choked, threatened and struck a Michigan State Police trooper who responded to the incident. The violent outburst was — and is — hard for officials at the sheriff's department to comprehend.
"The event itself was very difficult to understand," said Undersheriff Nate Alger. "It was completely out of character."
Needham, a 12-year veteran of the department, was its 2007 employee of the year. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Bensley echoed Alger's sentiments.
"It's a surprise," he said. "We didn't expect this. It's somebody that was here for a long time, a good employee, and suddenly this happens."
But despite Needham's positive past, his actions merited termination, Bensley said.
"It's very difficult to deal with it, and it's not one of the things we like to do, but we have to deal with it. We can't just let it go," he said. "It wasn't something we could just throw off our plate."
Alger worked with Needham since both were deputies, and described Needham as a "poster board" police officer. Needham's actions and the resultant discipline were hard on the department, he said.
"When it comes down to (disciplining) an employee like Kipp, who for all practical purposes was a great employee, it's very difficult and very hard for us, both personally and professionally," he said.
But Alger agrees that the department had no choice but to fire Needham.
Needham pleaded guilty in January to misdemeanor attempted assaulting, resisting or obstructing a police officer in a plea bargain with Grand Traverse County Prosecuting Attorney Alan Schneider. He was sentenced to six months in jail, but granted work release.
He claimed an adverse reaction to an anti-fungal medication caused his rampage.