Officer Faces Charge For Second Incident Involving K-9 Unit

May 12, 2021, 8:15 PM | Updated: May 13, 2021, 1:20 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A K-9 officer with the Salt Lake City Police Department accused of unlawfully releasing his dog on a man has been charged with doing the same thing to a woman.

As a result, 39-year-old Officer Nickolas John Pearce, has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault, both second degree felonies.   

The first charge came from an incident on April 24, 2020 when a man was attacked by Pearce’s police dog, named Tuco, after police responded to an area on a domestic violence call.

According to charging documents, Jeffery Michael Ryans was, “on his knees with his hands in the air. Pearce ordered K-9 Tuco to engage on Ryans.”

The latest charge came from a stolen vehicle stop made in the area of 600 West 100 South in Nov. 2019.

“They asked the driver to turn off the car to throw out the car keys and stick her hands out the window,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told KSL-TV.

According to the court documents, the driver,26-year-old Nellieana Langi, did “not make any threats or aggressive moves towards the officer.” Her “hands (were) extended outside the window, with no weapons in her hands.”

The reports said, “despite the fact that Langi was not making any threats… the officer told Tuco [his dog] to hit. Langi suffered significant lacerations to her left forearm, which caused permanent disfigurement due to scarring.”

“No reason to use this kind of force given the facts that were alleged in our probable cause statement,” said Gill.

Pearce’s attorney, Tara Isaacson, released the following statement:

“Officer Pearce is a police officer with 14 years experience. He has been a K-9 handler since 2010 and is a certified judge for patrol and narcotic dogs. In each case charged by the District Attorney’s Office, Officer Pearce deployed his dog in a scenario consistent with his training and with department policy.”

“Each case was reviewed by supervisors and no concerns were ever expressed.

“Each case was also previously reviewed by the district attorney’s office when charges were screened against the suspects. No concerns were raised at that time either.

“In the most recent case, the suspect was in a stolen vehicle and was reportedly non-compliant with officers. There was an extended period of time where she would not get out of the car. She could have had a weapon in the vehicle and officers were concerned for their safety.  

“That was why a K9 was brought to the scene. Dogs are used throughout the State by police departments as a form of less lethal force for use in certain scenarios. 

“We believe that the court will ultimately find that the use of a K9 in both of these instances was lawful and consistent with department policy.  

“It should be noted that the dogs used by the Salt Lake City Police Department are trained and then certified before they are used in the field.  These dogs live with their handler and their families in a home environment.”

In regards to the district attorney’s office previously reviewing the cases, Gill told Pat Reavy with the Deseret News that prosecutors at the time were only looking at the alleged crimes committed by the suspect and not the conduct of the officers, which he said is a different issue. 

Pearce was expected to be in court on the charges on June 15.  

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Officer Faces Charge For Second Incident Involving K-9 Unit