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Press Release

Former Independence, Missouri, Police Officer Sentenced to 48 Months in Prison for Violating Civil Rights of Minor in his Custody

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson of the Western District of Missouri announced that former Independence, Missouri, Police Officer Timothy Runnels was sentenced to 4 years in prison for violating the constitutional rights of a minor who was in his custody.

As part of his guilty plea, Runnels admitted that while he was employed as an officer of the Independence Police Department, he deprived the minor of his civil rights by deliberately dropping the minor face first onto the ground while the minor was restrained and not posing a threat to Runnels or others.  According to the court filings, Runnels also admitted that his actions resulted in bodily injury to the minor.

During a sentencing hearing before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Dean Whipple of the Western District of Missouri, the government provided evidence that Runnels deployed his taser into the minor’s chest during a traffic stop and then caused the electric current to run for approximately 20 seconds, four times longer than officers are trained to deploy a taser.  Evidence at the hearing revealed that as a result of the tasing, the minor went into cardiac arrest and became unresponsive.  Dash camera video of the incident depicts Runnels handcuffing the minor after the taser deployment and then picking him up.  The video and other evidence presented at the sentencing demonstrates that Runnels then deliberately dropped the handcuffed victim face-first into the pavement.  Although the minor suffered cardiac arrest and facial injuries, he survived the incident due to timely medical treatment by medical personnel at the scene and at the hospital.

Judge Whipple issued the sentence, which will be followed by two years of supervised release. 

“The defendant abused his authority as a law enforcement officer by depriving a minor of his constitutional rights and causing bodily harm,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta.  “While the majority of law enforcement safeguards our communities with fidelity, the department will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute officers who violate their oath by using excessive force.”

“This former police officer was trained and entrusted to enforce the law impartially,” said U.S. Attorney Dickinson.  “His use of excessive force violated both the public’s trust and his oath to uphold the law.  Police officers are not above the law and will be held accountable when they violate the civil rights of the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve.”

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Kansas City Division and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Shan Patel of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section and First Assistant U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark of the Western District of Missouri.

Updated June 1, 2016

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 16-633