A former Independence police officer who injured a teen driver during a 2014 traffic stop was sentenced Wednesday to four years in federal prison.
Timothy Runnels, 32, previously pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of 17-year-old Bryce Masters.
“His use of excessive force violated both the public’s trust and his oath to uphold the law,” Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said in a written statement. “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.”
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Masters went into cardiac arrest after Runnels used a stun gun on him after the teen refused to get out of his car. Then with the teen’s arms handcuffed behind him, Runnels dropped the teen’s limp body face-first onto the pavement.
Later Wednesday, Masters’ family issued a statement thanking investigators, prosecutors and medical personnel who treated Masters.
“The past 20 months have been emotionally and physically exhausting,” the statement said. “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.”
U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple imposed the sentence Wednesday in Kansas City after hearing evidence and testimony last week in a hearing where Masters and his father, a Kansas City police officer, described the ongoing effects of the brain injury the teen suffered.
Masters nearly died, according to testimony last week.
Runnels also spoke last week and apologized to Masters and his family.
“At no point did I intend to harm him,” Runnels said last week. “But I did.”
His attorney, J.R. Hobbs, asked Whipple to place Runnels on probation. Being a convicted felon and losing the only career he ever aspired to was a significant punishment for Runnels, Hobbs said.
“A federal felony is not a slap on the wrist,” Hobbs said.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark asked the judge to impose the four-year sentence.
He said Runnels was a sworn law enforcement officer whose actions were not only wrong, but criminal.
“When you cross that line, there are going to be consequences and they are going to be severe,” he told the judge last week.
Although sentencing guidelines called for a term of eight to 10 years, prosecutors recommended a sentence of no more than four years as part of the plea agreement.
After serving his sentence, Runnels will be placed on supervised release for two years.
He was allowed to remain free on bond Tuesday and was given until Aug. 1 to surrender to federal authorities. Hobbs asked that the judge recommend that he be placed in a prison facility as close to Kansas City as possible.