A teen who was hit near the heart by the probes of an Independence police officer's stun gun is improving after being placed in a medically induced coma, his family said Tuesday.
Bryce Masters, 17, was put in a medically induced coma after his heart stopped and his brain was deprived of oxygen. This occurred during an altercation with Independence Police Department Officer Tim Runnels, who deployed his stun gun on Masters during a traffic stop Sunday afternoon.
According to the Independence Police Department, Runnels stopped Masters at 3:07 p.m.
Masters was driving a car in which there was an outstanding traffic warrant for a woman associated with the car. Independence police said Masters wouldn't cooperate with the officer, and refused to get out of the vehicle.
However, friends of Masters have said that Masters was unable to roll down his window because it was broken.
A struggle ensued and police said the officer did what he had to do to protect himself: he used a stun gun on Masters while he was in the car and then pulled him out of the car to handcuff him.
Witnesses said it looked like Masters hit his head on the concrete and they saw blood before he went into convulsions.
However, the attorney for the Masters family said he did not strike his head, but went into cardiac arrest and lost consciousness due to the probes of the stun gun striking near the heart.
The incident brought into question about the use of force and when a stun gun can be used. According to the Independence Police Department's policy, stun gun deployment is authorized in, but not limited to, the following instances:
"Use of force against the officer or another person - Violent, threatening, or potentially violent behavior - Physically resisting the arrest or detention - Flight in order to avoid arrest or detention, in circumstances where officers would pursue on foot, and tackle the subject to physically effect the arrest or detention of the subject - and Self-destructive, or self-harming behavior."
AMR, the ambulance service for the Independence area, was dispatched by police to the scene at 3:10 p.m. The ambulance arrived at 3:15 p.m. Paramedics worked on Runnels who was in full cardiac arrest, and left the scene headed to Independence Centerpoint Medical Center at 3:27 p.m.
Dr. Stephen Thornton, with the University of Kansas Medical Center, talked about what happens to a person's body when they have a stun gun used on them.
"It delivers a lot of voltage, but the actual amount of current that gets to the body is fairly small. It's supposed to be enough current that it basically causes your muscles to contract and you lose the ability to stand, to fight, to do whatever you were doing," Thornton said. "Causing the heart to beat funny, that's certainly a high-risk event that, if it happened and they didn't recognize it right away, they might not be able to reverse it and it could lead to the problems that this family is saying happened to this child."
He said the amount of electricity sent into the body is considered low, but any number of factors could go into something bad happening when the body has had a stun gun used on it.
"There are studies that show, yes, there are risks of basically your heart going into dysrhythmias or funny heartbeats from the electricity and there are studies that show that Tasers can make you stop breathing. They can contract your diaphragm," Thornton said.
The Independence Police Department is conducting its own investigation.
Runnels joined the Independence Police Department nearly three years ago.
He served with the Kansas City Police Department for about three years. According to KCPD records, Runnels was in the police academy from January 2007 until August 2007. He was a police officer from Aug. 12, 2007, through June 7, 2010.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also involved in the stun gun incident and are looking at possible civil rights violations. Former agent Michael Tabman said it's a somewhat out of the norm, but times are changing.
"I believe that it's sort of a response to the sensitivity right now, after Ferguson, and that the FBI wants to make a statement that we are there in these allegations of excessive use of force," Tabman said.
He added that stun guns are widely used and he's not sure the FBI is going to want to get involved in all of those types of cases.
An attorney for Masters' family released a statement on their behalf Tuesday afternoon, saying that late Monday evening doctors began efforts to bring Masters out of his medically induced coma and Masters began responding to stimuli."Late Sunday afternoon, an Independence Police officer fired a Taser device at Bryce. The probes from the Taser struck Bryce approximately six (6) inches apart in close proximity to his heart which, according to the hospital trauma surgeon, appears to have caused Bryce to go into fatal cardiac arrhythmia. Bryce was in full cardiac arrest when EMS arrived at the scene."Bryce is presently being treated for severe acute oxygen deprivation to the brain as a result of the cardiac arrest and the elapsed time before EMS arrived. Bryce is not being treated for head trauma related to a fall or being struck. The treatment for Bryce's condition included being placed in a medically induced coma and the lowering of his core body temperature."Late yesterday evening, the Centerpoint Medical Center team caring for Bryce began efforts to bring Bryce out of the medically induced coma. The process took place overnight and early this morning Bryce began responding to stimuli. Although the news is positive, the family remains guardedly optimistic as it is far too early to know the long term effect of his injuries. As of this morning Bryce remains in critical but stable condition."
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