A former Independence police officer made his first court appearance after a federal grand jury indicted him on four separate counts.
Tim Runnels appeared before Judge Sarah Hays late Friday afternoon and entered a not guilty plea. A Truman High School senior went into cardiac arrest after Runnels fired his stun gun into the teen's chest during a traffic stop on Sept. 14.
A grand jury Thursday afternoon had issued the sealed four-count indictment. The U.S. Attorney's Office and J.R. Hobbs, the attorney for Runnels, worked out a first appearance for Runnels, which is when the indictment was made public.
Runnels is accused of violating the teen's constitutional rights and obstructing the investigation into his actions.
Runnels quietly answered the judge's questions and rocked back and forth in his chair during the proceedings.
Runnels left the Independence Police Department in November. The Independence Police Department has concluded its investigation. The FBI launched an excessive force investigation and agents provided their findings to the grand jury.
Grand jurors reviewed Runnels' actions when he pulled over then 17-year-old Bryce Masters in September. The grand jury reviewed whether Runnels' actions were an appropriate use of force and whether he immediately provided aid after the teen collapsed.
Masters was in the courtroom along with his parents.
Masters is the son of a Kansas City police officer. Runnels worked at KCPD from 2007 to 2010. Runnels worked for the Independence Police Department for nearly three years.
Dan Haus, an attorney representing Bryce Masters and his family, issued a lengthy statement Friday night on behalf of the 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 reads, adding that Runnels' actions were not reasonable and were more than human error.
Masters' heart stopped when the probes were fired into his chest. He was without oxygen for an extended period of time, and Runnels' actions during the time before the first paramedics arrived were to be part of the grand jury review.
Runnels had pulled over Masters during a traffic stop. Runnels said Masters repeatedly interfered with his investigation, forcing him to attempt to pull the teen from the vehicle.
An eyewitness recorded part of the encounter, and that video has been made public. Masters' recorded his arrest and inadvertently recorded his collapse via his smartphone. That video along with the officer's dash-cam video has not been made public.
The first two counts that Runnels faces are for deprivation of rights. He is accused of deploying the stun gun unlawfully by dropping Masters face first onto the ground when Masters was restrained and not posing a threat to him or others. Runnels is also accused of providing false or misleading statements in his police report about his use of force and the circumstances that led to Masters' injuries. Runnels is accused in the fourth count of making false statements and intentionally providing false information to Independence police investigators on Sept. 16.
If convicted on the civil rights counts, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each count. If convicted of obstruction of justice, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.
While police had claimed there was a warrant associated with the car for a woman, the Masters family said in their statement Friday night that the car was properly registered to his parents and there was no warrant for Masters or the vehicle.
"Bryce was exercising his right to politely ask questions regarding his detention," the Masters family said. "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."
A trial date was set for May 5. Runnels was released on his own recognizance.
KCTV5 was the only media outlet inside the federal courtroom on Thursday when the grand jury forewoman handed the indictment to Magistrate Judge John T. Maughmer, who then sealed the documents. KCTV5 was the only broadcast outlet in the courtroom Friday afternoon when Runnels appeared before Hays.
The following is the entire Masters family statement:"The Masters Family is a law enforcement family and has been for over eighteen years. They understand the pressures and emotions that encompass police families. They know what it's like to work and raise a family in the law enforcement community. The law cannot realistically require that police officers make no human errors whatsoever when performing their duties. The burden on law enforcement and the variations of human nature make an error free expectation unrealistic. However, the courts of this great land have required that police officers act reasonably. Determining what an officer knows or should know based on their training and experience to conclude whether their responses were reasonable under the circumstances is the standard that is expected. This standard should be acknowledged and practiced by every police officer."This expectation has been the driving force for the Masters' family and their belief that their son was not treated in a reasonable manner by a law enforcement officer. This was evident during the traffic stop itself, the nebulous reasons for the contact, and by the lack of adequate medical care thereafter. 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. Bryce Masters would not be with us today had it not been for divine intervention and the extraordinary life saving measures performed by paramedics with American Medical Response and the staff at Centerpoint Medical Center."The Masters Family would like to thank the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI for their professionalism and vigilance in investigating this life altering incident. The family would like to extend a special thanks to Chief Daryl Forte and the entire Kansas City Police Department who have been unwavering with their support during the last six months. They would like to also thank the countless friends and family who have sustained them with words of encouragement, prayers, and unconditional love."We kindly ask that the family's privacy be honored and respected as this is a difficult time for all involved as the case continues to now move forward."
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