A former Independence police officer pleaded guilty on Friday to violating the constitutional rights of a minor after physically abusing the high school student during a traffic stop and leaving him in critical condition. Although the former officer initially claimed that his actions were justified, witnesses and cell phone video revealed multiple inconsistencies with his version of events. According to federal prosecutors, the cop used excessive force to subdue the student even though the teen did not pose a threat.
On the afternoon of September 14, 2014, Officer Timothy Runnels pulled over 17-year-old Bryce Masters because his license plate matched a plate wanted for a traffic warrant. According to the police, Masters refused to cooperate with Officer Reynolds and resisted arrest.
“I believe he did crack the window but did not roll it down any further. He was just being completely uncooperative with the officer,” alleged Sgt. Darrell Schmidli. “The driver refused to exit the vehicle. A struggle ensued. A Taser was deployed by the officer. The driver was finally removed out of the car. A struggle ensued once he was moved out of the car.”
“There was a wrestling match behind the vehicle where he resisted,” stated Maj. Terry Storey of the Independence Police Department.
But according to witness statements and video footage, Officer Runnels’ account of the incident is full of inaccuracies. After inviting Masters over to play Xbox, 17-year-old Curtis Martes opened his front door to find his friend being pulled over by a patrol car. Officer Runnels approached Masters and ordered him to roll down his window.
“I hear him say from my porch he’s like ‘I can’t roll down my window it’s broke,’” recalled Martes. “He doesn’t have the cable that allows the electric window to work.”
When Officer Runnels asked Masters to exit the vehicle, Masters began to record the incident on his cell phone.
“He was like ‘what am I being arrested for?’ The cop just grabbed him and said ‘you’re under arrest,’” stated Martes.
Witnesses saw Officer Runnels tasing Masters in the chest before pulling him out of the car and have asserted that the teenager did not attack the police officer. Hearing the teenager’s screams, Michelle Baker grabbed her cell phone and recorded Officer Runnels dragging Masters’ body to the sidewalk.
“The cop was like, ‘you want to mess with me,’ and pulled out his Taser and tased him. I thought he shot him. Then he pulled him out of the car, handcuffed him, and drug him around the car,” witness Michelle Baker said. “It looked like he hit his head on the concrete. You could see blood coming out of his mouth. The cop put his foot on his back and moved it back and forth like he was putting a cigarette out and asked him, ‘are you ready to get up now?’ You could tell the kid was going into convulsions.”
The son of a Kansas City Police Officer, Bryce Masters went into fatal cardiac arrhythmia and died on the sidewalk. Masters was in full cardiac arrest when emergency responders arrived and resuscitated him. Due to severe oxygen deprivation to his brain, Masters was transported to a local hospital and placed in a chemically induced coma. Bryce’s brother, Colin, told reporters that his brother might have stopped breathing for over five minutes.
According to reports, the license plate on Masters’ car was linked to a warrant belonging to a female who was not present at the scene.
“The department remains committed to ensuring that police officers who violate their sworn oaths by using excessive force are held accountable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “I am hopeful that today’s plea brings a measure of closure for the victim.”
“The use of excessive force by law enforcement officers is a serious offense that strikes at the heart of Constitutional protections for all citizens,” stated U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson of the Western District of Missouri. “This former police officer who violated his sworn duty to protect and serve should not reflect upon the vast majority of officers who perform their duties with integrity and professionalism.”
On March 27, a federal grand jury indicted Runnels for deploying a Taser against a minor restrained on the ground and deliberately slamming Masters headfirst onto the street while the teen was handcuffed and not posing a threat to Runnels or others. Runnels was also charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for filing a false police report concerning the incident and for making a false statement to Independence Police Department investigators.
On Friday, Runnels pleaded guilty to violating the constitutional rights of a minor in his custody. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for violating the teen’s civil rights.