A federal grand jury has indicted a former Independence police officer who used a stun gun last fall to subdue a 17-year-old driver who nearly died during the encounter.
The four-count indictment unsealed Friday stems from an FBI investigation into whether Timothy N. Runnels used excessive force after he pulled over Bryce Masters of Independence on Sept. 14 at East Southside Boulevard and Main Street.
The indictment charges Runnels with two counts of deprivation of Masters’ constitutional rights, based on force Runnels allegedly used, and two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly making a false report and giving false statements afterward to investigators.
Runnels entered not guilty pleas during his first court appearance late Friday afternoon. His attorney, J.R. Hobbs, said Runnels denies the allegations.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah W. Hays set a tentative trial date of May 4 and released Runnels on his own recognizance.
Runnels left the Independence Police Department in November. Authorities have not said whether he resigned or was terminated. Runnels previously worked for the Kansas City Police Department, from 2007 to 2010.
The indictment said Runnels continuously deployed the stun gun while Masters was on the ground and not posing a threat to the officer, and that Runnels deliberately dropped Masters headfirst onto the ground while the nonthreatening teen was handcuffed.
It also said Runnels knowingly filed a false police report and omitted details to Independence police about the force he used.
Masters and his parents sat in the back of the courtroom during the brief court hearing. Masters’ father is a Kansas City police officer.
In a written statement released after the hearing, the Masters family said it has a unique perspective of what police officers face each day. Bryce Masters was not treated in a reasonable manner by a law enforcement officer, they said.
“This was evident during the traffic stop itself, the nebulous reasons for the contact, and by the lack of adequate medical care thereafter,” the statement said. “Bryce was exercising his right to politely ask questions regarding his detention.”
The family said the teen did not have a warrant for his arrest, and the car he was driving was properly registered to his parents and did not have a warrant associated with it.
That contradicts what Independence police said shortly after the incident, when officials announced the car’s license plate was associated with a woman wanted on an arrest warrant.
At that time, Independence police also said Masters refused to comply with Runnels’ demand to exit the vehicle, and that Masters physically braced himself to prevent the officer from pulling him out.
They also said Runnels reported detecting the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle.
Masters used his iPhone to record the encounter, according to a court document that police filed to request a search warrant for the car.
After Masters refused to exit the car, the officer used his stun gun, handcuffed Masters and told him to move to the curb. When he didn’t comply, Runnels dragged him there.
A witness recorded a portion of the incident on a cellphone.
Masters sustained brain damage after he went into cardiac arrest. Doctors placed him into a medically induced coma that included lowering his core body temperature. Since then, Masters has received physical therapy.
Daniel Haus, the attorney for Masters, said Masters is a senior at Truman High School in Independence, although the incident set back his studies. His condition is improving, Haus said.
If convicted, Runnels would face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the two constitutional rights violations. He would face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the other counts.
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