KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) – A Missouri police officer pleaded guilty Friday to smashing a teenage boy’s face into the ground so brutally he was put in a medically induced coma.
Timothy Runnels, 32, a former Independence police officer pleaded guilty to violating the constitutional rights of Bryce Masters, 17, who was in his custody.
“I am hopeful that today’s plea brings a measure of closure for the victim,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“The department remains committed to ensuring that police officers who violate their sworn oaths by using excessive force are held accountable.”
A federal jury indicted Runnels in March on two counts of deprivation of constitutional rights and two counts of obstruction of justice.
Runnels pleaded guilty only to count two, for dropping Masters face-first onto the ground and causing bodily injury, but not to count one, “continuously” deploying a Taser against Masters, or counts three and four, trying to impede investigation.
The indictment was the result of an FBI investigation requested by Masters’ family due to inconsistencies between Runnels’ and their son’s stories.
Runnels pulled over Masters in September 2014 as the teenager drove to a friend’s house to play video games. Masters refused Masters’ orders to get out of the car, so Runnels dragged him from it.
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,” and then “continuously deployed a Taser against B.M. while B.M. was on the ground and not posing a threat.”
Independence Police said at first that Runnels’ use of the Taser followed policy.
But witnesses used a cell phone to videotape Runnels dragging Masters from the car and stand with his foot on the teen’s back. They said Masters was on the ground “twitching” and “going into convulsions” after Runnels shot him with a Taser.
Masters, who suffered brain injuries, was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where doctors put him in a medically induced coma while he recovered.
Had Runnels been convicted at trial, he faced up to 60 years in prison and $1 million in fines. With the plea agreement, he faces up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.
U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson called police officers’ use of excessive force “a serious offense that strikes at the heart of constitutional protections for all citizens.”
“This former police officer who violated his sworn duty to protect and serve should not reflect upon the vast majority of officers who perform their duties with integrity and professionalism,” Dickinson said.
A sentencing date has not been set.
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