A Salt Lake City cop who sicced his K-9 on a Black man complying with his orders has been charged with assault, one month after body camera footage of the arrest was published by a local newspaper.
Nickolas Pearce, 39, faces one count of aggravated assault, which is a second-degree felony charge, reports BuzzFeed News.
The charge comes nearly five months after Pearce set his K-9 on Jeffrey Ryans, who has needed multiple surgery procedures and sustained “prolonged loss of use” of his left leg, according to court documents.
Ryans was smoking a cigarette in his backyard in the early hours of April 24, when police approached him on the other side of his fence, inquiring how to access his yard. Ryans complied with the officers’ orders: instructing Pearce and another officer how to get inside the gate. The Washington Post, which received additional body camera footage, reports that Ryans stayed next to the fence and continued speaking with another officer, per their orders.
When Officer Pearce turns the corner and approaches Ryans, however, he immediately shines his flashlight on him and threatens him.
“Get on the ground or you’re gonna get bit,” Pearce yells. Ryans begins kneeling, one hand on the fence, another raised in the air. He is crouching on the ground when Pearce orders his K-9 to “hit”—meaning bite—Ryans anyway.
The K-9 immediately seizes upon Ryans, who begins writhing in pain and collapses to the ground.
“I’m on the ground, I’m on the ground. Why are you biting me?” Ryans ask, as Pearce continues to order the K-9 to “hit,” and the dog continues to tear into Ryans’ flesh.
As a second officer begins handcuffing Ryans, the dog keeps a tight grip on his leg.
“Good boy, good boy,” Pearce tells the dog.
The dog keeps its hold on Ryans’ leg for a minute until Pearce finally orders the K-9 off.
The officers were there to respond to a domestic call—Ryans’ daughter had called the police to report her father had been in a verbal and physical fight with her mother, who had a protective order against him, reports the Salt Lake City Tribune. An investigation by Salt Lake City’s Civilian Review Board found that Ryans misunderstood the order and thought it had been lifted. His wife had also allowed him into the home.
The Post, citing a report from the Civilian Review Board, reports that senior police officials didn’t learn about the arrest—and how it landed Ryans in the hospital—until he filed a lawsuit against the department last month:
[D] espite the department’s policy for reporting such incidents, the lieutenant neglected to notify his supervisors or contact the internal affairs department. The lieutenant has since retired, which the report says is unrelated to this case.
“The failure of the lieutenant to report this incident up the chain is disturbing and unacceptable,” the Civilian Review Board report said.
The Civilian Review Board also admonished Pearce and his fellow officer for ordering the dog to attack Ryans. “It seems that many lesser use of force options were available to the two officers,” the report said.
The charges were handed down Wednesday by Salt Lake City District Attorney Sim Gill (D).
“[Ryans] certainly wasn’t posing an imminent threat of violence or harm to anyone and he certainly wasn’t concealed,” Gill told the Tribune. “He was fenced in an area and was being compliant.”
Gill’s comments echoed Ryans’ own remarks to the newspaper.
“I wasn’t running,” he said. “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.”