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Charges Filed Against SLCPD Officer Whose K-9 Partner Bit Complying Man

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday announced charges have been filed against a police officer who allegedly let his K-9 partner attack a man who had his hands in the air.

Salt Lake City police officer Nickolas John Pearce, 39, of Herriman, has been charged with aggravated assault, a second-degree felony.

“Most of the time we are looking for use of lethal force, but in this case, we also needed to see if there was any lawful use of force being used,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. “It is not about charging police officers. It is about charging someone who engaged in criminal conduct regardless of what their status is. And in this case, we had both the evidence and the behavior that constitutes a violation of the law.” 

KSL-TV obtained findings from the Salt Lake City Citizen Review Board that ruled the officer’s actions were not in line with the department’s policies.

“The failure of the lieutenant to report this incident up the chain is disturbing and unacceptable,” the report said. “In this matter, there does not seem to be an attempt by Officer Pearce to deescalate the matter. In almost his first words he makes the command for Mr. Ryans to come to him and if he does not, the threat of him getting ‘bit’ is issued.”

The report continued, “But the subject must exhibit some type of behavior or action that would necessitate the use of the K-9, something beyond ‘contempt of cop’ or disregard of commands.”

The charges stem from an incident in April when police were called to a residence after a neighbor called heard arguing. Jeffery Ryans was at the home of his wife, who at the time had a protective order against him. However, she said the order was in the process of being lifted, and she was allowing Ryans to stay at the house for a few weeks.

Police questioned Ryans’ wife before they found Ryans in the backyard, and they ordered him to kneel on the ground.

Body camera footage from the incident shows Ryans raising his hands. Despite appearing to comply, Pearce allows the K-9 to bite Ryans. In the video, Ryans can be heard screaming, “Why are you biting me?”

Pearce was put on leave in August, and the police department suspended its use of police dogs to engage with suspects.

Attorney Gabriel White, who is representing Ryans, said his client intends to sue the police department for excessive use of force.

“My client is from the South,” White said. “He knows if you don’t comply, you might get shot, so even if the police are wrong, you comply and live to fight another day. He was complying with their orders and was not a threat.”

White said Ryans has to have multiple operations and he’s dealing with infections due to the bite.

“He still might lose his leg,” White said.

Officials with the Salt Lake City Police Department released a statement saying, “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 statement also said if Internal Affairs determines officer Pearce violated police policy, any resulting disciplinary action will follow a process that is required by state and federal law.

That process could take some time, according to the release but the department would complete it as promptly as possible.

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