6 SLC Police Officers On Leave As DA Launches Countywide K-9 Investigation

Oct 9, 2020, 4:40 PM | Updated: 11:22 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Six officers with the Salt Lake City Police Department have been placed on administrative leave after an audit of its K-9 Apprehension Program.

Police identified and audited 34 cases involving K-9 officers that resulted in injury spanning back to 2016, and the department released body camera video from 19 of those incidents on Friday.

“In the interest of being open and transparent, we are making public one video for each of the 19 cases that we have identified need further review,” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown. “We have worked diligently to perform this audit and are taking the initiative to conduct similar audits in all divisions of the police department.”

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office requested records from all 34 incidents at the end of September.

“We are grateful to SLCPD for their commitment to transparency and willingness to confront uncomfortable truths,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

Following SLCPD’s release, Gill requested information and evidence from K-9 incidents that resulted in injury from all law enforcement agencies with K-9 programs in the Salt Lake Valley.

Gill met with police chiefs from across the valley this past Monday to “discuss how to work collectively to gather accurate information and develop recommendations about the uses of K-9s throughout Salt Lake County.”

Gill said every police chief that was invited attended, and his office will review all materials they receive and act as appropriate and necessary.

“The conversation was robust and productive, with every chief demonstrating, in our opinion, a strong commitment to justice and transparency on this issue of significant public interest and concern,” he said.

The sweeping investigation was sparked by an incident with SLCPD in April, when resident Jeffery Ryans was bitten by a K-9 officer.

Officer Nickolas Pearce was charged with aggravated assault, a second-degree felony, in September for his involvement in the incident.

SLCPD’s K-9 Apprehension Program was suspended in August after administrators became aware of Ryans’ incident.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said releasing the footage was “an important step in our commitment to the people of Salt Lake City for transparency and accountability.”

“This footage is upsetting, but its release and the investigation of these cases by the district attorney’s office, the Civilian Review Board and Internal Affairs is critical to our vision for a police department that is always transparent, accountable, and fair,” Mendenhall said. “Anything less than that is an insult to our residents and the many fine officers who are committed to serving and protecting our city. As I have said before, we must be willing to evaluate our processes, see where we have done harm, fix it, and ensure it never happens again. Today’s release is integral to that process.”

The Salt Lake City Council also issued a statement Friday, saying it supports the mayor’s decision to suspend the K-9 program while the incidents are reviewed.

“Councilmembers have expressed support for the mayor’s release of this body-worn camera footage as an important step to be fully transparent with the community and to continue with the process to bring full accountability. The council also supports the efforts to enhance training and address equity in policing,” officials said. “The council’s efforts since the summer to adjust the Police Department’s annual budget, review key law enforcement policies, fund a budget audit, and support the city’s new Commission on Racial Equity in Policing are solid steps toward change. The council eagerly anticipates recommendations from the commission as it digs into issues related to the city’s policy, budget and culture of policing.”

Chad Reyes, a former K-9 handler and K-9 unit supervisor with the Unified Police Department said the videos can be shocking but need to be viewed within the context of each situation.

“Watching a [canine] engagement really does shock the conscience. But most people don’t understand the full context,” said Reyes, who also worked as a deputy chief at the Herriman Police Department.

“They’ve saved countless lives,” he added. “My own dog, Dingo, who was shot and killed in the line of duty, saved my life that I know of at least twice.”

Reyes hasn’t viewed all of the videos released by SLCPD, but he knows a dog’s bite doesn’t look good from the outside, without the context and an understanding of why officers use K-9s the way they do.

“The dog can inflict pain on a person that would distract him from being able to recover a weapon or focus his attention on a human. Trying to injure a human,” he said. “That’s just another tool that we’re employing, much like a taser, pepper spray or anything else to gain the suspect’s compliance.”

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6 SLC Police Officers On Leave As DA Launches Countywide K-9 Investigation