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Missouri police officer pleads guilty in brutality case

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Reuters) - A former Missouri police officer pleaded guilty on Friday to violating the constitutional rights of a 17-year-old motorist by deliberately dropping the restrained youth face-first on the ground after a traffic stop last year, federal prosecutors said.

Officer Timothy Runnels stopped Bryce Masters, 17, in the Kansas City suburb of Independence, Missouri, on Sept. 14, 2014 because Masters was driving a car owned by a woman with an outstanding warrant, police said at the time.

Runnels also used a stun gun on Masters because he was not cooperative, according to police. He threw Masters to the ground while he was restrained and posing no threat to the officer or others, the federal charges said.

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The guilty plea comes amid heightened attention to excessive use of force by police, especially by white officers on African American citizens. Runnels and Masters are both white.

Masters was taken by ambulance to a hospital and reported in critical condition, officials said at the time. Runnels left the department shortly after the incident.

Runnels pleaded guilty to using his position of authority to deprive Masters of his civil rights while inflicting harm, a Class C felony, according to the plea documents.

The FBI and Justice Department's Civil Rights Division investigated the case.

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"The department remains committed to ensuring that police officers who violate their sworn oaths by using excessive force are held accountable," Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement released on Friday by U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson.

Runnels faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, Dickinson said. Prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of no more than four years, according to the plea agreement.

The prosecutions four years maximum plea agreement betrays the spirit of law and does nothing to discourage the kind of behavior displayed by the officer. He should be made an example of and given the maximum thus sending a clear message to others that the uniform does not protect criminals.

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