Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced on Wednesday that prosecutors believe Officer Nickolas Pearce used “unlawful force” in the April 24 arrest of 36-year-old Jeffery Ryans and have since charged the cop with aggravated assault, a second-degree felony.
“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,” Gill said of Ryans on September 16, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.
Ryans "wasn’t resisting arrest,” he added.
Body camera footage republished by the Tribune shows the moment in question.
“Get on the ground!” Pearce is heard yelling. “Get on the ground, or you’re going to get bit!”
Pearce immediately complies, gets on his knees and places his hands in the air. It’s then that Pearce orders the dog to “hit,” a command telling the K-9 to bite the 36-year-old.
Be advised, the footage below contains scenes some audiences may find offensive.
Pearce repeats the “hit” order and is overheard saying “good boy” to the dog as Ryans screams in agony.
"Why are you guys doing this?" the 36-year-old asks between his screams.
The SLCPD published a news release on Wednesday confirming knowledge of the criminal charges leveled against Pearce, as well as an “independent investigation conducted by the City’s Civilian Review Board.”
“The Department takes the District Attorney’s decision and the Civilian Review Board’s findings very seriously. Both will be evaluated and taken into account as the Department is finalizing its Internal Affairs investigation,” the department noted.
“If Internal Affairs finds that Officer Pearce committed a policy violation, the Chief’s Office will follow the disciplinary process required under state and federal law. This can take some time, but we will carry this out as expediently as possible to bring a prompt conclusion to this matter.”
Pearce and other officers were initially called to the house to arrest Ryans for violating a protective order that had been filed in December 2019.
Ryans maintains that he and his wife, the one who filed the protective order, had worked things out and that he had been living at the house for some time before the April 24 encounter.
“I wasn’t running,” he recalled to the Tribune. “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.”
SLCPD Deputy Chief Jeff Kendrick told “CBS This Morning” that “domestic violence” and related incidents “are some of the most dangerous calls that [officers] respond to” and that K-9s are generally brought along to assist.
The city has since prohibited the force from using K-9s, pending the results of policy reviews and Ryans’ case.
A probable cause statement provided to CBS News cited Ryans’ medical records and detailed that he sustained "two lacerations described as approximately 4 inch wide by 3 inch long and approximately 5 inch long by 1 inch wide.” The injuries resulted in "prolonged loss of the use of his left leg following surgery."
"Complications resulting from the dog bites have resulted in protracted impairment of his leg and permanent disfigurement of the leg due to visible scarring from the dog bites," the document read.
Ryans, who has already undergone several surgeries, revealed to “CBS This Morning” that doctors have said amputation of his leg is still a possibility.
Pearce, if convicted, faces up to 15 years behind bars.