Former Independence police officer sentenced to 4 years for tasing arrest that put teen in coma
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Former Independence, Mo., police officer Timothy Runnels was sentenced Wednesday to 4 years in prison for violating the constitutional rights of a minor who was in his custody.
The minor, Bryce Masters, was 17-years-old when he was taken to the hospital in critical condition after Runnels used his taser on Masters. Runnels said Masters wouldn’t cooperate and that drug paraphernalia was found in Masters’ car. Runnels stated he ordered Masters to get out of his car several times, but he refused during his arrest in September 2014.
Masters’ family asked the Justice Department to get involved to see his Masters’ civil rights were violated.
As part of his guilty plea, Runnels admitted that he deprived the minor of his civil rights by deliberately dropping the minor face first onto the ground while the minor was restrained and not posing a threat to Runnels or others. According to the court filings, Runnels also admitted that his actions resulted in bodily injury to the minor.
During a sentencing hearing the government provided evidence that Runnels deployed his Taser into the minor’s chest during a traffic stop and then caused the electric current to run for approximately 20 seconds, four times longer than officers are trained to deploy a Taser.
The tasing caused Masters to go into cardiac arrest and became unresponsive. Dash camera video of the incident depicts Runnels handcuffing the minor after the Taser deployment and then picking him up. The video and other evidence presented at the sentencing demonstrates that Runnels then deliberately dropped the handcuffed victim face-first into the pavement. Although the minor suffered cardiac arrest and facial injuries, he survived the incident due to timely medical treatment by medical personnel at the scene and at the hospital.
In addition to the four-year sentence, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Dean Whipple of the Western District of Missouri, ordered the sentence to be followed by two years of supervised release.
“This former police officer was trained and entrusted to enforce the law impartially,” said U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson. “His use of excessive force violated both the public’s trust and his oath to uphold the law. Police officers are not above the law and will be held accountable when they violate the civil rights of the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve.”
“The defendant abused his authority as a law enforcement officer by depriving a minor of his constitutional rights and causing bodily harm,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “While the majority of law enforcement safeguards our communities with fidelity, the department will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute officers who violate their oath by using excessive force.”
The following is a statement from Masters’ family:
We would like to thank the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Attorney’s office, specifically David Ketchmark, for the hard work, passion and dedication put forth on our son’s case. We would like to thank our attorneys, especially Dan Haus, for supporting us from the beginning and advising us during an impossible time for our family. The fact that Bryce lived through this horrible incident is only because of the tremendous efforts of paramedics with American Medical Response and the outstanding staff at Centerpoint Medical Center.
The past twenty months have been emotionally and physically exhausting. We hope that today’s sentence will allow Bryce to begin to focus on his future. Aside from dealing with a traumatic brain injury, Bryce has battled the perception that he is somehow responsible for the crime committed against him. Bryce’s only mistake in this situation was following his parents’ advice to ask questions, particularly to ask “why” if stopped by law enforcement. While we are pleased that Mr. Runnels was held accountable for his actions, no one really wins in this scenario. Two law enforcement families were devastated by these events and we all simply wish that day had never happened.
We would also like to thank all of our family and friends who have stood behind us and supported Bryce.
We will have no further comment at this time.