KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) - A Missouri police officer "continuously" Tasered a high school student without cause, critically injuring him, then lied about it to obstruct an investigation, federal prosecutors say in a 4-count indictment.
A federal grand jury on March 26 indicted Timothy N. Runnels, a former Independence police officer, on two counts of deprivation of constitutional rights and two counts of obstruction of justice.
Runnels, 31, stopped 17-year-old Bryce Masters on Sept. 14, 2014 as Masters pulled up to a friend's house to play video games. Masters is the son of a police officer.
Runnels, who later claimed that he smelled marijuana in the car, ordered Masters out of the vehicle. When Masters refused to comply, Runnels shot him with the stun gun and dragged him from the car.
According to the indictment, Runnels "deliberately dropped B.M. face first onto the ground while B.M. was restrained and not posing a threat to the defendant or others."
Runnels then "continuously deployed a Taser against B.M. while B.M. was on the ground and not posing a threat," the indictment states.
Police claimed that there was a warrant out on the car, though Masters' attorney said that is not the case.
"It appears that use of the Taser was within policy," Independence Police Maj. Paul Thurman said at a news conference after the incident.
"The subject exited the vehicle on his own," Thurman said in response to a reporter's question whether Runnels pulled Masters from the car.
Witnesses told a different story, though, backed up by a cell phone video.
"I thought he just shot him," Michelle Baker told WDAF-TV. Baker said she heard screams coming from the street. The cell phone video showed Runnels dragging Masters from the car and then standing with his foot on the teen's back.
"You could tell that the kid was going into convulsions," Baker said. "Then he turned him over, and his head was dangling, and he had blood coming out."
"He was just on the ground, like, twitching," Curtis Martes told WDAF.
Masters was on his way to Martes' house to play video games. Martes told WDAF that the officer asked Masters to roll down his window, which Masters said he could not do because it was broken. When Runnels asked Masters to get out of the car, Masters began recording the encounter on his phone.
"He was like, 'What am I being arrested for?' and the cop just grabbed him and said, 'You're under arrest,'" Martes told WDAF.
"There was a wrestling match behind the vehicle, where he resisted," Independence police Maj. Terry Storey told WDAF shortly after the encounter.
"He threw him on the ground and busted his face up," Martes told WDAF. "He kept nudging him with his foot."
Witnesses said it appeared that Masters stopped breathing during the five minutes of the video recording.
Masters, who suffered brain injuries, was taken by ambulance to a hospital and hospitalized in critical condition. Doctors put him in a medically induced coma while he recovered.
The indictment came as a result of an FBI investigation requested by Masters' family due to inconsistencies between Runnels' and their son's account of the incident. Masters' father is also a police officer.
Dan Haus, an attorney representing that Masters family, issued a statement Friday night on behalf of Masters family: "The Masters family is a law enforcement family and has been for over 18 years. They understand the pressures and emotions that encompass police families," the statement says.
"Bryce was exercising his right to politely ask questions regarding his detention. He did not have a warrant for his arrest. The car he was driving was properly registered to his parents and did not have a warrant responding to it, as reported. The recognized change in 'probable cause' from the initial and follow up statements to the media by the involved department were very apparent.
"The noticeable posturing by the officer and the department was quite visible within the first three days of the incident and was a red flag to the family.
"Bryce asserted his rights during the police encounter by asking if he was being arrested and for what reason. This resulted in his poor treatment and ultimately his clinical death. The family has the utmost faith in the system and will continue to do so until this case has finally been resolved."
Runnels, who previously worked for Kansas City, Mo. police, is no longer employed by the Independence Police Department.
He entered not guilty pleas during his first court appearance on Friday. A judge set a tentative trial date and released him on his own recognizance.
If convicted of all four counts, Runnels could face up to 60 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.