Officer ordered to stand trial for aggravated assault after ordering a K-9 to attack

Dec 16, 2022, 11:24 AM | Updated: 11:28 am
Jeffery Ryans kneeling on police footage...
Jeffery Ryans is seen in police body camera footage recorded on April 24, 2020. (SLCPD)

WEST JORDAN, Utah — A Salt Lake City police officer has been ordered to stand trial for assault after commanding a police K-9 to bite a man who was already getting down and on one knee.

Nickolas John Pearce, 41, of Herriman, was charged in 3rd District Court with aggravated assault, a third-degree felony. He is accused of ordering K-9 Tuco to bite a man who said he had his hands raised and was already complying during a domestic violence call.

In a hearing on Thursday, Judge William Kendall announced he had made a written decision to proceed to trial and Pearce pleaded not guilty to the assault charge. A jury trial was scheduled to begin on June 5.

The decision comes almost five months after a hearing on the issue in which Pearce’s attorney, Tara Isaacson, asked to present arguments on whether her client should stand trial through written briefs.

At the hearing, Jeffery Ryans testified that the time while the K-9 dog was biting him “felt like forever,” although it was less than a minute. He told the judge he was cooperative and was surprised by the attack.

Ryans can be heard in police body camera video screaming in pain and cursing while the dog is biting, as well as after the dog is called off.

Salt Lake police officer Cody Orgill said at the hearing they were responding to a protective order violation. Ryans said he knew there was a protective order, but he did not think it was in effect at that time and was not expecting officers to show up. He said he was trying to get ready for work.

Kendall, in the written order, related the events from April 24, 2020, as they were described in the preliminary hearing. He said Ryans was talking to an officer in a backyard when Pearce and the K-9 came up, and then Pearce ordered Ryans to “get on the ground” or he would “get bit.”

The judge said the dog bit Ryans for between 30 and 45 seconds before he was called off, all while Ryans asked why he was being bitten. Officers then requested medical attention for Ryans, whose injury caused a temporary loss of use of the leg and permanent disfigurement.

Kendall’s order says that the state presented “reasonably believable evidence” to support the charge, citing the warning, the quick order to bite, the duration of the attack, that Ryans seemed “effectively subdued” before the attack and there is no evidence he was attempting to flee.

Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill said, as with any case, there is a presumption of innocence for Pearce as they continue the legal process, after passing this first critical step.

“We believe that a crime has occurred and that we have sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of charges,” Gill said.

In general, the job of the county attorney is to follow the evidence and file charges when the evidence is sufficient, Gill said.

He said no one is above the law and in each of their cases they do not make a distinction between a citizen, an officer, a county attorney, a judge or an elected official. Gill said holding people in public institutions accountable is necessary to maintain public trust.

“If they’re part of a public institution, then it’s critical that we hold them accountable, consistent with the application of the law, as we would anybody else,” Gill said.

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Officer ordered to stand trial for aggravated assault after ordering a K-9 to attack