A Salt Lake City police officer was charged Wednesday in connection with allegedly ordering a police dog to attack a Black man who was surrendering to police, on his knees with his hands in the air.
Nickolas Pearce has been placed on administrative leave since video of the incident became public last month. He is now facing an aggravated assault charge, a second-degree felony.
CNN could not reach Pearce for comment.
The local police union defended Pearce Wednesday. “We firmly stand behind Officer Pearce,” Salt Lake Police Association President Steven Winters told CNN after the charge was announced. “We believe he was justified in what he did, and look forward to the criminal justice process working its way out.” Pearce has not yet appeared in court.
Pearce and other officers were responding to a domestic violence call April 24 when they encountered Jeffery Ryans, who was subject to a protective order that prohibited him from being at the residence.
According to the probable cause statement, “Ryans did not express any intentions or engage in actions reflecting he was going to resist the officers” and kept his hands in the air throughout the encounter.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told The New York Times that Utah law allows officers to use force but that but “when you cross that threshold, you need to be held accountable, just like anybody else.”
CNN could not reach Gill for comment.
The Salt Lake City Police Department said the Civilian Review Board also completed an independent investigation, but the department is still analyzing it.
“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,” the department said Wednesday in a press release.
Police approached Ryans at the residence around 3:30 a.m. saying they were responding to an incident of domestic violence, according to Ryans’ lawyers. Ryans’ daughter made the 911 call to police, according to a recording of the call released by police.
“My dad is doing very bad things to our family,” the daughter says.
“He’s yelling and screaming,” she says, as raised voices are heard in the background.
“Did he strike your mom?” the operator asks.
The daughter answers: “Yes.”
Asked by the operator if her father lives at the house, the daughter replies, “No, he has a restraining order.”
One of Ryans’ lawyers, Daniel Gardner, confirmed to CNN that there was a protective order in place but said the couple “were under the impression that it had been lifted because that was the wishes of Mrs. Ryans.”
According to body-worn camera footage from the incident provided to CNN by the man’s attorneys and Salt Lake City Police, an officer mentions the protective order to Ryans who then tells that officer that his wife “said she lifted it off.”
“(Ryans and his wife) did not understand that a judge is the only one that can lift a protective order,” Gardner explained.
Police asked Ryans to leave the house, according to the video. They also spoke to his wife, who confirmed that she has a protective order and told officers that Jeffery was in the house when she got home.
When the officers found him in the backyard, one of the six officers tells him “you’re not supposed to be here Jeffery.”
“Alright, well she let me in,” he claims. Several officers can be heard ordering Ryans to “get on the ground.” One officer says that Ryans tried to jump the fence.
Pearce demanded that Ryans get on the ground. Three seconds later Pearce kicked Ryans and then ordered a K9 named Tuco to bite the suspect, according to the probable cause statement.
“Det. Pearce believes his actions were in compliance with SLCPD policies,” the Salt Lake City’s Police Civilian Review Board said in its report. It recommended several things, including a better reporting system for such incidents.
Video shows Ryans lying on the ground protesting and exclaiming in pain as a dog bites and tugs at his left leg. One officer is seen handcuffing him while another officer repeatedly says “good boy” to the dog.
“Why are you biting me?” Ryans screams on the video at one point.
As Ryans is on the ground being handcuffed, an officer can be heard saying “we need medical for a dog bite” over the radio.
Ryans, a locomotive engineer, says several times throughout the incident that he was trying to get his work clothes from the house.
Ryans was hospitalized for leg lacerations that were four to five inches long. His attorneys told CNN last month that Ryans needed several surgeries.