Year In Review: Use Of K9 Officers During Arrests Called Into Question

Dec 30, 2020, 11:36 PM | Updated: 11:57 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Following the protests and riots we saw around the country and here in Utah regarding police relations, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office launched their largest review of police departments to date. Some of that focus revolved around the use of K9 officers during arrests.

This began after an officer with the Salt Lake City Police Department was criminally charged in an incident from April 2020.

January 1, 2020 — a man was running from West Valley City Police.

November 2019 — Salt Lake City Police were tracking suspects in a burglary case.

Both of these cases were being reviewed by Salt Lake County’s District Attorney Sim Gill as part of a wide-sweeping review of all K9 bite incidents in Salt Lake County.

It all started with a video showing Jeffrey Ryans being bitten by a K9 officer.

“Why are you biting me?” said Ryans.

On April 24, Salt Lake police were called to a home after neighbors heard arguing. In the video, you can hear police asking Ryans to comply before Officer Nickolas Pearce ordered the K9 to engage.

“It looks like somebody hit him with a machete or a chainsaw,” said Gabriel White, Ryan’s attorney.

The two filed a lawsuit against the department in August, claiming Ryans was bit because he is Black.

White said he attempted to get records a few times from the department, but they kept delaying.

That’s because KSL-TV obtained the findings from the Citizen Review Board that found a lapse in the reporting of this bite incident, saying “the failure of the Lieutenant to report this incident up the chain is disturbing and unacceptable.”

The review board said the officer’s actions were not in line with the department’s policies to use the K9, which was the same conclusion Gill reached in September, charging Officer Pearce with second degree aggravated assault.

“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 Gill.

Gill then submitted record requests of all K9 bite incidents for law enforcement agencies with K9 programs in September.

“It is my responsibility to do the right thing,” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown.

Salt Lake City — which has suspended its use of K9s to apprehend people — was the first to turn over their documents and video.

They forwarded 18 cases for review that they believe could have involved improper use of the K9.

Jeffrey Ryans’ case caught the nation’s attention and that of Utah lawmakers. They looked to make changes to statewide K9 program standards — a project still in the works as Gill’s review continues.

“For us, it’s follow the law,” said Gill. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a police officer or a civilian — if you violate, we will f0llow and we will charge you.”

“It’s just really unfortunate that it takes something like this to make that happen because nobody was looking into it before this,” said White.

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Year In Review: Use Of K9 Officers During Arrests Called Into Question