KEY POINTS

  • Salt Lake City prosecutors announced charges of aggravated assault against a police officer who ordered a police dog to attack a suspect who already was complying with orders
  • Body camera footage shows Jeffrey Ryans in his backyard, on his knees with his hands up complying with instructions
  • Officer Nickolas Pearce was suspended and use of K-9 units halted pending an investigation

A Salt Lake City police officer has been suspended and charged with a felony, accused of ordering his police dog to attack a suspect already on the ground with his hands up. 

The incident occurred in April, but only came to the attention of the public last month in a report by the Salt Lake Tribune. Body camera footage shows train engineer Jeffrey Ryans, an African American, on his knees with his hands up, complying with police instructions when when the dog is ordered to attack.

Police were responding to a call from Ryans’ daughter on April 24. She told police Ryans was “abusing” the family and violating a protective order. A review by a civilian board following the incident found Ryans believed the protective order had been lifted, and he had been invited back into the home by his wife.

Officers responding to the call said they thought someone was trapped in the house because they had seen a curtain move. Officers ordered him to the ground, shouting, “Get on the ground or you’re gonna get bit.” Ryans did not comply fast enough, and officers kicked out his leg. 

Ryans was on his knees with his hand up, one touching the fence, when the dog, Tuco, was given the “hit” command, the signal to attack. The command is repeated several times, and an officer tells Tuco “good dog” multiple times. The report from the civilian oversight board said Ryans was only bitten once, and the “hit” command is given repeatedly to instruct the dog to maintain its grip. Saying “good dog” afterward is also standard procedure, as the dogs must be extensively trained to bite humans and will lose that training without positive reinforcement. Tuco released Ryans immediately upon receiving the “oust” command. 

Police officials said they didn’t learn of the attack until Ryans filed suit because a lieutenant had not reported the incident. Officer Nickolas Pearce was placed on administrative leave and the use of K-9 units to engage suspects was discontinued pending investigation. The district attorney’s office announced criminal charges on Wednesday of aggravated assault, a felony.

 

Ryans is also filing suit in civil court for damages. His leg was severely lacerated and became infected. He also underwent multiple surgeries and lost his job because of extended hospital stays. Doctors still have not ruled out amputation. 

“I felt like a chew toy,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I didn’t know why this was happening to me. That’s what was going through my mind. Why?”

Deputy Police Chief Jeff Kendrick explained in an interview with CBS that because domestic violence calls are dangerous, "officers use extra precautions when they respond to someone’s home."