Presley & Presley LLC has secured a more than $6.5 million verdict for Bryce Masters, whose life nearly ended when a police stop escalated dangerously out of control.
Despite the legal difficulty of such cases, a jury in federal court in Kansas City didn’t hesitate to side with Masters. After the weeklong trial, jurors took a matter of hours to return the hefty verdict.
“Unfortunately, because of some of the legal issues involved, even what would be very outrageous conduct is in some cases justified in the moment for police officers,” said Kirk Presley, the Presley & Presley founder who represented Masters. “This case was well outside of those boundaries.”
In 2014, when Masters was 17, Timothy Runnels — a former Independence police officer — pulled the teen over for an unspecified reason. Runnels wanted Masters to get out of the car, but Masters refused, repeatedly asking what he had done wrong.
After a back-and-forth that included Runnels attempting to force Masters out of the car, the police officer told Masters — whose father is a Kansas City police officer — that he was under arrest and shot him in the chest with a Taser.
That’s when things went horribly wrong. Instead of the typical five seconds of Taser use, Runnels continued using the Taser for 20 seconds, prompting cardiac arrest. Even after Masters lay unresponsive on the road, Runnels cuffed his hands behind his back, dragged him out of the street and dropped him face-first on a driveway. Had it not been for the automatic ambulance call triggered upon report of Taser deployment, Masters would have died.
Later, it became clear that the reason for the stop was that the vehicle’s windows were too tinted. A dashcam video captured the entire incident, leaving little room for doubt. In 2016, Runnels pleaded guilty to violating Masters’ civil rights and was sentenced to four years in prison.
Masters, now 21, suffered from lack of oxygen to the brain during the incident but has made a pretty good recovery, Presley said. The young man spent a week in the hospital, after which he went through extensive occupational, speech and physical therapy.
“This young man has a lifetime of problems ahead of him because of his brain injury,” Presley said. “And I think that the drop on the driveway was absolutely outrageous — the worst kind of police misconduct.”
The verdict included $5 million for Taser use that resulted in cardiac arrest and brain injury; $50,000 for actual damages for the drop on the driveway; $500,000 in punitive damages for the Taser deployment; and $1 million in punitive damages for the drop. The verdict amount is fully insured, Presley said.
The only settlement offered before the trial was a meager $150,000, despite Runnels’ prior guilty plea.
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