Ex-police officer indicted for excessive use of ECD at traffic stop

Timothy Runnels was arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Missouri, on two counts apiece of deprivation of civil rights and of obstruction of justice

By Jim Suhr
Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A former Missouri police officer pleaded not guilty Friday to federal charges accusing him of excessive force when he used his stun gun on a teenager during a traffic stop.

Timothy Runnels was arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Missouri, on two counts apiece of deprivation of civil rights and of obstruction of justice in connection with the Sept. 14 confrontation with 17-year-old Bryce Masters of Independence, a Kansas City suburb where Runnels worked.

The indictment, returned Thursday and unsealed Friday, alleges that Runnels "continuously" shocked Masters with his stun gun while the teen was on the ground and unthreatening, then dropped Masters face-first onto the ground while he was restrained. The teen's heart stopped, but he survived.

The indictment also accuses Runnels of submitting a misleading police report that omitted or falsely described the amount of force he used on Masters, "with the intent to obstruct any investigation into deprivations of constitutional rights" of the teenager. Runnels also tried to hinder the police department's investigation of the matter, the indictment alleges.

Runnels' attorney, J.R. Hobbs, told The Associated Press later Friday that the indictment was "just an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent." He declined to specifically discuss the charges.

According to an application for a search warrant on the car Masters was driving, Runnels noticed the car's windows were darkly tinted and ran a computer check, which revealed a warrant associated with the vehicle's license plate. The female owner of the vehicle wasn't in the car.

Runnels said he smelled the odor of marijuana after the driver — who was recording the incident on an iPhone, which is legal — partially rolled down a passenger-side window, according to the warrant application. The officer went around to the driver's side and opened the door after Masters refused to roll the window completely down.

When Masters would not get out of the car, Runnels determined the boy was interfering with the investigation and told him he was under arrest. Masters, whose father is a Kansas City police officer, physically resisted and Runnels shot him in the chest with his Taser, the search-warrant document said.

Police have said a search revealed drug paraphernalia in the car.

A spokesman for Masters' family, attorney Daniel Haus, has said the teen went into cardiac arrest after probes from the stun gun struck him about 6 inches apart near his heart. The teen was initially placed in a medically induced coma and treated for a lack of oxygen to the brain.

The Masters family, in a statement Haus supplied Friday to the AP, denied there was a warrant relating to the vehicle at the time Bryce Masters was stopped. The statement said the teenager merely "asserted his rights during the police encounter by asking if he was being arrested and for what reason."

"This resulted in poor treatment and ultimately his clinical death" when his heart stopped, the family's statement read. "The law cannot realistically require that police officers make no human errors whatsoever when performing their duties. The burden on law enforcement and the variations of human nature make an error-free expectation unrealistic. However, the courts of this great land have required that police officers act reasonably."

Runnels' trial date tentatively was set for May 4.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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