A former Missouri police officer pleaded guilty Friday to violating the civil rights of a 17-year-old boy that he dropped face first onto the ground during a routine traffic stop, leaving him with serious brain damage, court records show.
The guilty plea comes nearly a year after former Independence Police Officer Timothy Runnels pulled over Bryce Masters, who is now 18, on Sept. 14, 2014. Authorities say Runnels threw Masters face down and "continuously" Tasered him while he was restrained, according to the civil complaint.
Runnels later submitted false police reports and gave false statements to the FBI agents and the Independence Police Department during their investigation into the incident, according to court records filed in the Western District Court of Missouri.
Masters suffered brain damage as a result of incident, putting him into cardiac arrest, authorities said. He was also placed into a medically induced coma for a weekend because his heart stopped after being Tased in the chest.
Runnels was ultimately indicted in March with two counts of constitutional rights violations and two counts of obstruction of justice. However, Runnels on Friday ultimately pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating Masters' constitutional rights. The other three counts will be dropped against him as a part of a plea agreement. He faces up to 10 years in prison, as well as a $250,000 fine.
Watch a video of the encounter here:
Runnels argued in court that he could smell marijuana coming from Masters' car.
Runnels also testified that Masters refused to roll the window all the way down saying, "Why? I can hear you."
He said he told Masters to get out of the car several times while the teen asked, "Why, am I under arrest?"
Runnels said he initially Tasered Masters in the car because the teen refused to get out, then pulled him onto the ground where he was handcuffed. Masters was also capturing the encounter on his phone.
"The department remains committed to ensuring that police officers who violate their sworn oaths by using excessive force are held accountable," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta in a statement. "I am hopeful that today's plea brings a measure of closure for the victim."
The Masters family said in a statement released Friday by their attorney that they are pleased with the guilty plea. However, "this incident has made the past year extremely difficult emotionally, mentally, and physically."
"The underlying reasons surrounding why Bryce was treated the way he was may never be answered," the family added.
Masters suffered acute hypoxia deprivation of oxygen to the brain, according to the family's attorney Daniel Haus. He is currently undergoing occupational treatment to improve his loss in cognitive abilities and memory.
Runnels had faced a previous civil complaint filed with the Western District Court of Missouri for excessive force in 2010, according to a review of court records. Willie McGruder alleged Runnels used excessive force while placing him under arrest Jan. 23, 2009. The case, however, never made it to trial and Runnels was not charged.
Runnels left the Independence Police Department in November, but authorities have not said whether he resigned or was terminated, according to the Kansas City Star.
Leticia Miranda is a retail reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Leticia Miranda at email@example.com.
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