Jeffery Ryans says he was in his Salt Lake City backyard, smoking a cigarette, on April 24 when police officers approached and started shouting. The 36-year-old says he emptied his hands, put them up, and told cops how to get into the backyard. They entered, and Ryans says a K-9 officer, Nickolas Pearce, kicked him in the leg and forced him to his knees, with his hands still in the air. Then, he and his lawyer say, Pearce ordered his dog to attack and the dog latched onto Ryans' leg. Ryans, who is Black, says that even as he was placed in handcuffs by an officer who was sitting on top of him, Pearce continued to give his dog "hit" commands, resulting in the dog biting and tearing at his leg. Now, in what the Salt Lake Tribune calls an "unusual" move and the AP calls "rare," county prosecutors on Wednesday filed a criminal charge against Pearce.
That's unusual because cops don't often face such charges in Utah, but in this case the DA says the decision was reached after an investigation into whether Pearce used "unlawful force." He is charged with second-degree felony aggravated assault. The probe found that Ryans "wasn’t resisting arrest," the DA says, and "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." Police initially responded to the home after Ryans' daughter called 911 to report he had hit her mother, and they arrested him because his wife had filed a protective order against him that barred him from being at their home. Ryans suffered severe injuries and plans to sue, and Pearce has been suspended pending the results of an internal investigation. The city is also reviewing its use of police dogs. (See video of the incident here.)