Crime

FBI to investigate Independence police after teen hit with stun gun is hospitalized

Bryce Masters (left) of Kansas City was in critical condition Monday in a hospital intensive care unit after an Independence police officer subdued him with a stun gun Sunday during a traffic stop. The FBI has begun an investigation into the incident.
Bryce Masters (left) of Kansas City was in critical condition Monday in a hospital intensive care unit after an Independence police officer subdued him with a stun gun Sunday during a traffic stop. The FBI has begun an investigation into the incident.

The FBI said Monday it had launched an investigation into an incident that left a 17-year-old hospitalized after he was subdued by an Independence police officer with a stun gun.

Independence police said that they would cooperate “hand-in-hand” with the federal investigation and the officer had been placed on administrative leave.

Those developments came as witnesses to the Sunday afternoon traffic stop of Bryce Masters of Kansas City said they thought the officer had treated him more roughly than necessary. They also said the incident was complicated by what appeared to have been a malfunctioning car window and the officer’s frustration at the teen for not lowering the window.

Masters was in critical condition Monday in a hospital intensive care unit. The officer, identified by the Independence department as Tim Runnels, has been on the force nearly three years.

Runnels stopped Masters at 3:07 p.m. Sunday at East Southside Boulevard and Main Street. Masters was alone in the vehicle.

The stop was the result of a Kansas City police warrant associated with the license plate on the vehicle, which is registered to a female. The female was not in the vehicle, which had darkly tinted windows.

Police said that during the traffic stop Masters was uncooperative, physically resistive and refused to get out of the car, and Runnels warned him that he would use a stun gun.

Police said the stun gun was used on the teen while he was still in the car. At some point, Masters got out of the car under his own power but later fell to the ground, Maj. Paul Thurman said.

The FBI’s Kansas City office will investigate whether Runnels used excessive force. The inquiry falls under the FBI’s civil rights program, the bureau said in a statement.

While the teen was in the hospital, his family released a statement through lawyer Daniel J. Haus:

“Because of significant inconsistencies between public statements made by the Independence Police Department and information made available to the family in the form of statements of eyewitnesses and video and audio footage of the occurrence, the family has asked the United States Department of Justice to conduct its own investigation into these tragic events.”

The family also thanked people “for their outpouring of concern and support.” Bryce Masters is the son of a Kansas City police officer, Matt Masters.

“We would conduct a thorough investigation, regardless of who the parents are,” Thurman said.

Haus said the family would have no further comment on details of the incident until the federal investigation is complete.

Police said Bryce Masters suffered a “medical emergency” during the traffic stop and needed resuscitation. The teen was taken to a hospital.

“Our department’s thoughts and prayers are with Bryce and his family and for his complete recovery,” the department said in a statement.

Thurman said the use of the stun gun on someone 17 years old and physically resisting and the summoning of an ambulance both fell within department policy.

Thurman said the department had not interviewed Runnels after the incident and a conversation was being arranged through his Fraternal Order of Police representative.

Witnesses said police overreacted.

“Several times, the cop put his foot on the kid like he was stepping on his neck, but it was on his back,” said Robert Baker, who lives nearby. “I think (the officer) was wrong, because the kid tried to explain to him that his window won’t roll down.”

Others said that Masters, who was in the neighborhood to visit a classmate, did not resist when Runnels pulled him over. They said Masters told the officer that the car’s window would not roll down.

“Bryce is the most nonaggressive kid that I know. This was just uncalled for,” said David Martes, whose home Masters was going to visit.

After placing handcuffs on the teen, Runnels dragged Masters to a nearby driveway and dropped him on the pavement, said Debbie Godfrey, who said she watched the incident unfold from her house across the street.

“His head hit the pavement in the driveway,” Godfrey said. “I was horrified of the whole situation and the way it all came down.”

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com. To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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