Timothy Runnels, Cop Who Beat And Tased Teen Into A Coma Gets Four Years
June 3, 2016 (Mimesis Law) – A former Independence, MO police officer who tased a teenage boy during a traffic stop, then bounced his head off the ground until he went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated was sentenced in federal court on June 1.
On September 11, 2015, IPD Officer Timothy Runnels pleaded guilty to one count of depriving Bryce Masters, 17, of his constitutional rights under color of law (18 U.S.C. § 242.) Runnels will serve four years in prison. Because Runnels was convicted of federal crime, he’s set to be one of a very few “bad apple” cops in the news to serve serious time: since the federal system no longer uses parole, the best he can hope for is an annual “good time credit” of 54 days off his sentence. He’s guaranteed to spend at least 3 years, 5 months behind bars.
The underlying facts are shocking even by Fault Lines standards, where we spend a lot of time documenting how the police abuse minors. On September 14, 2014, Masters’ best friend, Curtis Martes, invited Masters over to play Xbox. Masters drove to Martes’ house and was pulled over when he got there.
According to Martes, who watched the encounter unfold from his porch, Officer Runnels told Masters to roll down his window. Masters told him that his window was malfunctioning, upon which Runnels ordered him to step out of the car. Instead, Martes claims Masters pulled out his cell phone and started recording.
This blatant affront to the officer’s authoritah refusal to respect his command presence seems to have been what set Runnels off. According to Martes and another eyewitness, Michelle Baker, Runnels told Masters he was under arrest. Masters had just enough time to ask what he was being arrested for before Runnels drew his Taser and zapped the teen in the chest.
Runnels dragged the teen from the car and threw him on the ground, all while continuing to Tase him. Masters was subjected to a very long period of uninterrupted execution; according to his family, the Taser’s probes struck six inches apart, very close to the teen’s heart.
After Runnels finished electrocuting Masters, he placed him in cuffs. What happened next is truly shocking: according to Martes and Baker, Runnels grabbed the helpless teen and dropped him headfirst onto the asphalt. Baker says she saw blood shoot out of the teenager’s mouth and that he went into immediate convulsions.
Next, Runnels dragged Masters to a grassy spot behind the car, turned him onto his stomach, and ground his foot into the teen’s body “like he was putting a cigarette out.” There’s video, shot by Baker: you can see Masters twitch and convulse as Runnels poses with a foot on his victim’s back.
By the time help arrived, Masters was in full cardiac arrest and technically dead. Impressively, paramedics managed to resuscitate the teen and transport him to the hospital, where he was put in a coma in an effort to prevent as much brain damage as possible. It’s unclear how long Masters went without breathing; doctors revived him September 19, five days later, suffering from profound memory loss.
The IPD went into full damage-control mode. Press conferences were held: Runnels’ fellow officers, who backed him to the hilt, were interviewed by local news crews. As for Runnels himself, he filed a police report claiming he’d pulled Masters over because of an outstanding warrant associated with his license plate, then smelled marijuana as Masters rolled down his window. Runnels alleged that Masters resisted arrest and became physically confrontative, forcing him to use the Taser.
Of course, rolling down the window is precisely what Masters couldn’t do. And Runnels’ claim that Masters was resisting him physically was contradicted by eyewitnesses. Then there’s Baker’s video of Runnels abusing the teen as he convulsed on the ground. Finally, according to the FBI, Runnels lied to investigators about the amount of force he used.
The IPD department cleared Runnels of wrongdoing anyway, but the feds’ interest was sufficiently piqued that they agreed to investigate when Masters’ family asked them to. (It may have helped that Masters’ father is a Kansas City police officer.) A grand jury indicted Runnels in March 2015.
As in the case of Clauzell Gause, the judge at Runnels’ arraignment was kind enough to release him on his own recognizance. Unlike Gause, federal prosecutors hit Runnels with pretty serious charges: two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 242 (one for the Tasering and one for the head injury,) in addition to two counts of obstruction (one for the police report and one for lying to investigators.)
By the standards of us non-cops, he’s pretty lucky to have gotten away with four years. But because Runnels was a cop, the fact that he was prosecuted and convicted at all – much less sentenced to a stretch in prison – is so remarkable as to warrant an 800-word article. Such are the realities of modern policing.