A 17-year-old Missouri teen was put in a medically-induced coma for brain injuries received during a struggle with a police officer. Witnesses allege that Bryce Masters’ head hit the pavement after he was handcuffed and dropped on the ground by Officer Tim Runnels.
Masters was pulled over by police Sunday afternoon, due to a warrant for a woman associated with the car he was driving. Police claim the boy would not open his window, while Masters’ friends contend that the window switch was not working.
“The driver refused to exit the vehicle,” said Sgt. Darrell Schmidli. “A struggle ensued, a Taser was deployed by the officer. The driver was finally removed out of the car. A struggle ensued once he was moved out of the car.” But witnesses argue that Runnels used excessive force against Masters, putting his foot on the teen as if he were putting out a cigarette, as the teenager convulsed on the ground. Witnesses also claim that an emergency unit had to resuscitate Masters before he was sent to the hospital.
The Kansas City division of the FBI is currently investigating the Independence Police Department, but the department maintains that it acted within legal grounds. Major Paul Thurman believes Runnels, who has worked with the Independence police for three years, used the Taser in accordance with officer policy.
Runnels was placed on administrative leave.
The incident comes on the heels of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri last month, which sparked a national debate about police force and accountability. And 22-year-old Darrien Hunt, who was holding a toy sword, was fatally shot by police last Wednesday. As instances of police brutality and use of excessive force gain national attention, many argue that less violent tactics should be employed against perpetrators. But the Supreme Court gave legal deference to police determinations, giving officers the ability to decide what constitutes “reasonable” force.
However, criminal justice reform is is slowly turning into a bipartisan issue, and authorities are exploring new measures to keep police accountable. After a petitition calling for the use of body cameras received more than 150,000 signatures, the White House confirmed its support of the measure early this week. Social media also plays a role in holding police responsible for their actions. Three high school students created Five-O, a new phone app that allows people to document their encounters with police, provide demographic information about themselves, and rank officers’ professionalism. The NYCLU developed a similar mobile app in 2012, Stop-and-Frisk Watch, to record police interactions.