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SLCO DA files charges against Salt Lake City PD K-9 officer

Jeffery Ryans is seen in police body camera footage recorded Friday, April 24, 2020. Ryans was bit by a police K-9 after he was already kneeling with his hands in the air. The Salt Lake City Police Department is now investigating and an officer has been placed on leave. (Photo credit: Salt Lake City Police Department)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office filed aggravated assault charges on Wednesday against a Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) officer, who is accused of commanding a K9 officer to bite a Black man who at the time of the biting had his hands in the air.

A probable cause statement alleges that officer Nickolas Pearce attempted, with unlawful force, to do “bodily injury to another or created a substantial risk of bodily injury, using a dangerous weapon.”

Pearce, 39 years old and from Herriman, Utah, was charged in 3rd District Court.

On April 24, Pearce and two other officers, as well as a K9 officer, responded to a report of domestic violence at 765 W. Justin Kay Court in Salt Lake City.

The officers are alleged to have confronted Jeffery Ryans, a Black man and the subject of the domestic violence call, outside of the house. They reportedly told Ryans to get on the ground or he would be bitten. The statement indicates that Ryans complied with the officers’ commands and approached them with raised hands.

One officer remained in the front yard of the home with Ryans, while Pearce, the K9 officer and Officer Jewkes entered the backyard of the residence.

The charges state “Ryans did not express any intentions or engage in actions reflecting he was going to resist the officers.”

But seconds after confronting Ryans, investigators say Pearce kicked him in the leg.

“Ryans dropped to his knees and kept his hands raised. While Ryans was on his knees with his hands in the air, Pearce ordered K-9 Tuco to engage Ryans,” the charging documents state. While the dog was biting Ryans, Pearce “continually praised and encouraged K-9 Tuco.”

According to the Police Civilian Review Board, although Det. Pearce gave the command to “hit” a total of four times, the K9 was only involved in a single bite. The dog held onto Ryans’ leg until he was commanded to let go.

Responses to the charges

The Salt Lake City Police Department said it is taking the charges seriously.

“The Department takes the District Attorney’s decision and the Civilian Review Board’s findings very seriously. Both will be evaluated and taken into account as the Department is finalizing its Internal Affairs investigation,” SLC PD said in a statement.

When reached for comment by KSL TV, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she appreciated the fast response on the part of the DA Sim Gill.

“I appreciate the District Attorney’s quick work on this investigation,” said Mayor Mendenhall, “and remain committed to the mandate before us to make progressive change in the way we approach policing. 

Mendenhall also said that the Salt Lake City Police Department’s K9 bite program remains suspended, “pending the outcome of policy and procedure reviews by both the Department and the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing.”

 

This story will be updated.