Traverse City Record-Eagle

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June 3, 2010

Undersheriff: Arrest is 'black eye'

TRAVERSE CITY — The image of a bruised and battered Grand Traverse sheriff's deputy streamed across a courtroom television screen.

Kipp Needham's facial lacerations and swollen right eye were the result of a drunken, early-morning off-duty scuffle with police that put the 12-year member of the sheriff's department and its 2007 employee of the year behind bars.

"It's a black eye on the department," said Undersheriff Nathan Alger. "This was a shock to us, completely out of character."

Judge Thomas J. Phillips arraigned Needham on Wednesday in 86th District Court on a count of assaulting, resisting or obstructing a police officer causing injury, possessing a firearm while intoxicated and two counts of domestic violence. He allegedly assaulted two female relatives.

Michigan State Police early Tuesday responded to a domestic assault complaint, and found Needham face down in the driveway of his Acme Township home. He ran toward their patrol vehicle, slid his county-issued, loaded semi-automatic pistol toward police and said, "You're going to have to kill me," court records show.

Needham then ran to the backyard, where police said he punched and choked a trooper. Another trooper helped restrain Needham, and they repeatedly struck and handcuffed him.

He was taken to Munson Medical Center, and received staples and stitches to close up facial lacerations. A blood sample was sent to the state police forensic laboratory to test his intoxication levels, but state police Lt. Bill Elliott said it could take more than a week to get the results.

"This is an isolated incident," said George Mertz, Needham's attorney. "He's not a violent person or a danger to society."

Mertz requested a personal recognizance bond, but Phillips instead set a $250,000 cash bond. He remained in the Leelanau County Jail Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm concerned about Mr. Needham," Phillips said after he set bond. "He could be a danger to himself."

Needham is a road patrol deputy who specializes in serious accident investigations, said Alger, who commended the deputy's service record. Alger visited Needham on Tuesday at the jail to inform him of the department's decision to suspend him without pay until the case concludes. His preliminary examination is scheduled for June 16 in 86th District Court.

He is required to undergo twice-daily preliminary breath tests, twice-monthly drug screens and he's not allowed within 500 yards of his Baywood Drive residence — all of which are bond stipulations.

Needham also cannot contact the two female relatives he allegedly assaulted, his children and a neighbor who attempted to break up the domestic dispute.

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