KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former Missouri police officer on Friday admitted violating the constitutional rights of a suburban Kansas City teenager last year in a confrontation that nearly cost the 17-year-old his life.
Timothy Runnels, 32, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Kansas City to one count of deprivation of civil rights under the color of law. In the deal with prosecutors, the former Independence officer admitted that on Sept. 14, 2014, he deliberately dropped Bryce Masters face-first onto the ground while the teen was restrained and posing no threat.
"The use of excessive force by law enforcement officers is a serious offense that strikes at the heart of Constitutional protections for all citizens," U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson said in a news release.
Runnels had claimed that he pulled over Masters — the son of a Kansas City police officer — after a computer check showed a warrant associated with the vehicle's license plate. Runnels said he smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle after the teen, who was recording the incident on an iPhone, rolled down a passenger-side window but refused to get out.
In an application for a search warrant on the car, Runnels said he ordered the teen to exit the vehicle and shocked him in the chest with a Taser after Masters resisted. The probes struck Masters near the heart and caused him to go into cardiac arrest, his family said. He was placed in a medically induced coma and treated for a lack of oxygen to the brain before being released a week later.
An attorney for the family, Daniel Haus, said the family is pleased with Runnels' plea.
"This brings a great sense of relief and frankly will go a long way in the healing process," he said.
Masters suffered "permanent, significant, long-lasting effects," and the family is waiting until after sentencing before moving forward with any civil action, Haus said.
A four-count federal indictment in March accused Runnels of using excessive force and hindering the police department's investigation. Three of the counts will be dropped at sentencing, which hasn't been scheduled.
Runnels' attorney, J.R. Hobbs, said his client takes full responsibility for what he did.
"He regrets very much his actions and we will be working toward an effective sentencing presentation in the future," Hobbs said.
Prosecutors will recommend a sentence of no more than four years in prison and will allow the defense to request a sentence that doesn't include incarceration, according to the plea deal.