Salt Lake City police officer Nickolas Pearce has been suspended after a video showed him ordering a police dog to attack a Black man who had already surrendered.
On April 24, Jeffery Ryans suffered injuries so severe that he faced the possibility of having his leg amputated. While he was on his knees with his hands in the air, Officer Pearce ordered a police K-9 to attack him in his own backyard.
Officers were responding to a call placed by a neighbor who heard Ryans arguing with his wife, who had filed a protective order against him. Ryans, a train engineer, was getting ready for work and smoking in the backyard when the police arrived.
In the video, police ask Ryans’ wife: “Is he not supposed to be here? Because he’s got a protective order?” She responds by saying he was there when she got home. Ryans says he had been back at the home for several weeks.
The responding officers locate Ryans in the backyard for the home. As the husband is talking to one cop from the outside of the backyard fence, two others enter the yard. “Get on the ground or you’re going to get bit!” Pearce yells in the video footage. Ryans gets on his knees and raises his hands in the air in surrender, saying, “I’m just going to work.”
Although he cooperates, Pearce commands a police dog named Tuco to “hit” Ryans, and the K-9 lunges towards him, clamping down on his leg.
“I’m on the ground, why are you biting me?” Ryans questions. As the dog continues to maul his leg, Ryans is heard screaming in pain.
“Good boy,” Pearce says repeatedly, encouraging the dog’s attack.
When the officers place handcuffs on Ryans, the dog has yet to let go of his leg.
When the attack ends, an officer tells Ryans: “Bro, you’re listening great now, you weren’t listening great a minute ago.”
Pending an investigation, Pearce has been placed on administrative leave. “SLCPD has also launched a thorough review process of the K-9 apprehension program by external subject matter experts,” the police said in a statement. The use of police dogs in Salt Lake City has since been suspended.
Ryans endured multiple surgeries following the incident and says the injuries he sustained during the attack have impeded his ability to play sports with his children the way he used to. His attorneys say he suffered nerve and tendon damage and battled infections as a result of the attack.
“I felt like a chew toy,” he told The Salt Lake City Tribune. “I wasn’t running,” he recalled. “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 July 20, Ryans filed an intent to sue, to which the city must respond within 60 days. If the city does not respond, Ryans will carry out the suit, alleging officers used excessive force. His attorneys believe the officers responded aggressively because Ryans is Black.
Ryans says his wife had requested that the protective order be lifted but that the order was still pending at the time of the incident. He faces charges of violating the protective order.
On Aug. 3, the mayor signed an executive order that makes de-escalation “mandatory,” rather than “suggested or preferred.” The new action, which must go into effect on Sept. 5, requires de-escalation techniques to be attempted before force is used.