Sarah Stultz: Behind the badge, they’re people like you and me

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2022

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Covering a trial is a long process but one I have found interest in over the years.

Aside from sitting in the back-breaking benches for hours on end, I enjoy delving into the evidence and hearing the testimony presented. 

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A people-watcher, I also enjoy listening to people share their stories. 

This week and last, I have been covering the trial of the man charged with shooting three people in an eight-hour standoff at Shady Oaks at the end of November 2020. 

I remember the day the standoff happened clearly as I was awakened after receiving messages in the middle of the night from a friend who had been alerted to what was going on. 

At that time, it had only been a short while into the standoff, and information was limited as authorities were busy responding at the scene. 

Publisher Crystal Miller and I met up after daylight, and I ended up connecting with Public Safety Director J.D. Carlson for preliminary information. 

More information came out in the hours and days that followed.  

Shady Oaks is not too far from where I live, and I pass it daily on my route to work. 

It was hard to think of something like that happening so close to home, literally. 

This week, as I have sat and listened to the first officers who responded to the call speak about what they experienced, I am reminded of the bravery the men and women in law enforcement have and also of the lingering impacts their work can have on them. 

I have been thinking a lot about former Albert Lea Police Department Officer Kody Needham, who was the first officer to respond to the 911 call of fireworks or gunshots in the area, and who was shot as he pulled in with his squad car into the driveway of the apartment complex. 

In addition to the bravery Needham showed the day of the actual shooting, he showed immense bravery when he took the witness stand and shared how the incident changed the course of his life. He said the very day he returned to work following the shooting, he had to respond to a call at Shady Oaks for an animal complaint and had to respond there several other times as well. 

Ultimately, it was too much to bear to keep going back to the building where the shooting took place, and he moved out of the area, now working for the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office. He said he was disappointed because Albert Lea was the place he wanted to work for his whole career and at some point retire from.

Other officers also got a little emotional, too, in a few parts of their testimony, and it was a good reminder to me that these are real people, too.

Behind the badge and behind the uniform, these are people who are affected by life the same way you and I are.  

 My thoughts are with them as this experience is brought back to light.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.