INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A former Independence police officer was not protected by qualified immunity after he seriously injured a teenager with a Taser and by dropping him face down on the pavement, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a $6.5 million jury verdict against former officer Timothy Runnels over the confrontation with Bryce Masters during a traffic stop in 2014, 41 Action News has confirmed.
The court ruled Runnels had violated Masters' rights by using a Taser on him for up to 20 seconds after Masters, who was 17 at the time, refused to get out of his car. Runnels dragged the unconscious teenager several feet before dropping him on the pavement.
Masters suffered a convulsion and cardiac arrest from the prolonged Taser use, and four fractured teeth from being dropped on the pavement. First responders revived him, but he suffered oxygen deficiency to the brain.
Masters sued Runnels in 2016 for violating his civil rights. A jury awarded him $6.5 million in December 2018.
Runnels argued in his appeal that he was entitled to qualified immunity, which generally shields government officials from liability for actions that don't violate "clearly established" law.
The trial judge denied Runnels' motion, and the 8th Circuit last week upheld that finding.
"An officer may not continue to tase a person who is no longer resisting, threatening or fleeing," Circuit Judge Jane L. Kelly wrote for the three-judge appeals court panel. "That is so whether the tasing comes in the form of multiple, separate deployments or, as in this case, a single, continuous deployment that lasts for an extended period of time."
Kirk Presley, Masters' attorney, said the court's ruling relied on "established precedent that excessive force is always unconstitutional."
"In fact, the jury found that defendant Runnels' continued Taser trigger pull was intentional and malicious," Presley said in an email. "So the record clearly supported a denial of qualified immunity."
Runnels also was indicted on charges of depriving Masters of his civil rights under color of law and obstruction of justice.
He was fired from the Independence Police Department after the encounter. He was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading in 2015 to one count of deprivation of rights. Federal prison records show he was released on Dec. 27, 2019.
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