Twp. police officer fired for third time

FLINT TWP. — For the third time in about four years the township board voted unanimously to terminate Flint Township Police Officer Matthew Needham.

After meeting in closed session for about an hour with municipal attorney Helen “Lizzie” Mills, the board reopened the meeting to vote for Needham’s dismissal.

Grounds for the firing were not disclosed other than a motion stating it was the result of an internal investigation. Mills also declined to comment.

“It’s personal,’’ was Needham’s statement to media after his dismissal. He said he would again appeal the decision in arbitration. Both times he was dismissed previously, he got his job back through arbitration.

He also said he has worked for the department 21 years.

During public comment, prior to the board’s vote, Alexander Clark, a retired township police officer, spoke on Needham’s behalf.

He said that Needham has worked for the township for four-fifths of his career.

He urged the board to “use compassion and common sense” when dealing with Needham.

“Look at the history of what this gentleman has been through with the department,” Clark said.

Several supporters for Needham stayed during the closed session and heard the board’s decision without comment.

Needham previously was fired in November 2012 and November 2011. After the 2012 firing, Police Chief George Sippert said Needham was discharged for violation of work rules. He would not comment further due to confidentiality requirements.

Needham said it took about a year to get his job back.

Grounds stated for Needham’s 2011 dismissal was that he had violated several police department rules and regulations and made false statements during an investigation and hearing.

Chief Sippert said previously that through binding arbitration, Needham’s first termination was modified to a seven-month unpaid disciplinary suspension. He returned to work in June 2012.

Needham also is a co-defendant in an excessive force lawsuit filed April 20 in U.S. Eastern District Court in Detroit, by the family of Dominique Lewis, a young man shot and killed by Needham during a traffic stop in July 2014.

Lewis was shot after allegedly nearly striking Officer Needham with the vehicle in an attempt to flee and avoid arrest.

The Charter Township of Flint and Needham are named as defendants in the civil suit filed by Carmita Lewis, the mother of Dominique. The suit cites five counts: excessive force, governmental liability, gross negligence, negligent and/or intentional Infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.

In the most recent development in the case, on October 19, District Judge Avern Cohn denied the defendants motion for a stay of proceedings pending an appeal in which Needham sought entitlement to qualified governmental immunity.

A video captured on the police dashcam is part of the evidence.

Based on an independent investigation of the shooting by Michigan State Police which concluded that Needham’s action was justified and in self-defense, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton decided in October 2014 that Needham would not be criminally charged in the incident.

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