Traverse City Record-Eagle


June 9, 2010

Judge reduces jailed deputy's bond

TRAVERSE CITY — A Grand Traverse sheriff's deputy accused of a drunken assault is out of jail, but there are plenty of strings attached.

District Judge Michael Haley on Tuesday reduced suspended Deputy Kipp Needham's bond from $250,000 cash to a personal recognizance bond, which requires no money to secure release. Needham, 35, was set to be released from the Leelanau County Jail later Tuesday.

District Judge Thomas J. Phillips arraigned Needham last week 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 his wife and daughter at his Acme Township home June 1, then scuffled with Michigan State Police troopers who responded to the scene. He allegedly choked and hit a trooper during the struggle.

Needham is a 12-year employee of the sheriff's department and its 2007 employee of the year. Grand Traverse Sheriff Tom Bensley suspended him without pay pending the outcome of criminal proceedings.

George Mertz, Needham's attorney, said a recent mental health assessment shows Needham is "stable" and fit for release. Haley agreed, but imposed a series of bond restrictions designed to protect Needham and the victims.

"I realize these things aren't bulletproof, but nevertheless a competent mental health professional has basically signed off on this and indicated that ... there is not an immediate concern for the defendant's own safety," Haley said. "I think that the conditions of bond established will tend to the need for safety on the part of the victims involved here."

Needham won't be allowed to contact his wife or daughter, and he'll be allowed a single police-supervised trip to his home to collect belongings. He must take twice-daily breath tests for alcohol or utilize a system that prevents his car from starting without a clean breath test.

Mertz and Prosecutor Al Schneider said Needham's wife wants the no-contact restriction lifted. But she wasn't present in court to say so herself, so Haley wouldn't alter that condition.

Haley said it's understandable that Phillips initially set bond high.

"I think it's sufficient to say that when you have an event that occurs that attracts a lot of public attention like this, that involves alcohol and domestic violence, that involves a weapon and police officers getting hurt, it's the correct thing to do for the first person looking at the bond to" set a high amount, he said.

Needham was being held in the Leelanau County Jail because officials didn't want to jail him in the county where he serves as a deputy.

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