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Utah officer charged with felony assault for ordering a dog to attack compliant Black man

The Salt Lake City police department indicted Officer Nikolas Pearce after reviewing bodycam footage of his encounter with Jeffery Ryans.

Jefffery Ryans/Nicolas Pearce Salt Lake City Police Department

A Salt Lake City officer has been charged with a felony assault after he ordered his dog to attack a Black man who was complying to cops’ orders, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The criminal indictment, which is unusual for police officers in Utah, came after the Salt Lake City police department reviewed footage of the encounter between Officer Nikolas Pearce and Jeffery Ryans.

On April 24, cops responded to a call from Ryan’s daughter who alleged he was “doing very bad things to my family.” They reportedly sought to arrest him as he was violating a protective order and faced domestic violence charges following an argument with his wife.

Per bodycam footage, officers approached Ryans in his backyard. As they yelled at him, he dropped what was in his hands and directed cops to the gate that would let them in. Upon entering the yard, Pearce told the young man to “get on the ground or you’re going to get bit!” Despite adhering to the orders, the officer instructed his K-9 to “hit” Ryans, prompting the dog to bite and tear at the Black man’s leg.

“I’m on the ground, I’m on the ground. Why are you biting me?” Ryans could be heard saying in the video, while Pearce commended his pet with the words “good boy.”

Ryans told The Tribune that he was confused as the officers at the scene were simultaneously making different orders. “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.”

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill also maintained 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,” he said.

Pearce argued that he ordered his dog to bite Ryans after he noticed one of his hands grasp the fence. “Pearce felt that Mr. Ryans was rising from the ground to fight and opted to use his K-9 to stop these actions,” a report from the Civilian Review Board read. The officer also noted that his words of encouragement to the dog were “verbal reinforcement” often given to animals “as they do not naturally want to bite humans.”

After review of the footage, Pearce, a 14-year police veteran, was charged with second-degree felony aggravated assault and reportedly faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. The Civilian Review Board concluded Pearce violated department policy, and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced the suspension of the K-9 bite program as the department’s policies and procedures are reassessed.

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