A white Salt Lake City Police Department officer has been charged with aggravated assault for ordering a K-9 dog to bite a Black man who had complied with his command to raise his hands, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Jeffery Ryans, 36, "wasn’t resisting arrest,” said Salt Lake City District Attorney Sim Gill said. “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.”
Prosecutors began investigating case in August after The Salt Lake Tribune published body cam video showing the attack. Officer Nickolas Pearce was later suspended and using K-9s to apprehend suspects was placed on hold while department policies and practices were reviewed.
"Get on the ground! Get on the ground or you're gonna get bit," Pearce can be heard saying in the video. Ryans was
Pearce kicked Ryans in the leg and ordered the dog to "hit" and the dog bites into Ryans' left leg, prosecutors said.
"Good boy," Pearce is heard telling the dog. Ryans screams, "I'm on the ground. Why are you biting me?"
The Salt Lake City Police Department said in a statement Wednesday it takes the district attorney's decision, and a ruling last week by the city's Civilian Review Board that Pearce violated policy "very seriously."
The statement said, “Both will be evaluated and taken into account as the department is finalizing its internal affairs investigation. If internal affairs finds that Officer Pearce committed a policy violation, the chief’s office will follow the disciplinary process required under state and federal law."
Salt Lake City Police Association president Steven Winters said the group is behind Pearce and and he believes the decision of prosecute the officer is political.
“We believe his actions that evening were justified and in the bounds of the law,” he said. “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.”
Pearce told the review board that he ordered the K-9 to bite Ryans because the man had one hand on a fence, "Pearce felt that Mr. Ryans was rising from the ground to fight and opted to use his K-9 to stop these actions,” the board’s report said.
Officers were responding to a domestic disturbance call when they encountered Ryans in the backyard of a home.