The officer has been suspended from the Salt Lake City Police Department, and city officials have halted the use of police dogs while they review policies

By Elaine Aradillas
September 17, 2020 06:46 PM
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A Salt Lake City Police K9 officer was charged with second-degree felony aggravated assault after a video allegedly showed his dog attacking a Black man during an incident in April, according to the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper.

On the morning of April 24, Officer Nickolas Pearce and his K9, Tuco, responded to an early morning call at the home of 36-year-old Jeffrey Ryans, who is Black. Pearce allegedly ordered his dog to attack Ryans, who was on his knees with his hands in the air at the time of the incident.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sam Gill told the newspaper his office investigated whether Pearce used “unlawful force” after the paper posted bodycam footage of the incident.

Gill told the Tribune that Ryans wasn’t resisting arrest. “He certainly wasn’t posing an imminent threat of violence or harm to anyone and he certainly wasn’t concealed. He was fenced in an area and was being compliant,” Gill told the paper.

In August, after the local paper uncovered the incident, Pearce was suspended from the department while his “use of force” was investigated, and city officials halted the use of police dogs pending review of the department’s policies.

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall tweeted from her official account, “I am disturbed by what I saw in that video, frustrated by how the situation was handled, and am committed to working to ensure neither happen again.”

On Wednesday, the president of the Salt Lake City Police Association responded to the charge and told the paper it was political.

“We believe his actions that evening were justified and in the bounds of the law,” he told the Tribune. “Officer Pearce is an excellent officer and is without question a good dog handler. We’re hopeful that the criminal justice system will [run] its course and take care of this manner.”

Meanwhile, Ryans previously told the Tribune that he was confused about why he was being attacked.

“I wasn’t running,” he told the Tribune in August. “I wasn’t fighting. I was just cooperating. We’ve been through this. We’ve seen this. Always cooperate with the police, no matter what.”

On the night of the incident, police were responding to a 911 call where Ryans daughter called for help and allegedly reported that her father was doing “bad things to my family,” the paper reported.

Ryans’ attorneys told the paper that officers could have used alternate ways to arrest Ryans but didn’t. Ryans has started the process of filing a lawsuit against the police department.