In April, a black man smoking a cigarette in his own backyard in Salt Lake City was attacked by a police dog on the officer’s orders. Jeffrey Ryans, 36, heard officer Nickolas Pearce, 39, order him to get on the ground or get bitten. Ryans started to kneel when Pearce kicked his leg and sicced the dog on him.
Pearce’s body camera caught the incident on tape, and the officer now faces felony charges of use of excessive force and aggravated assault. He is on administrative leave and faces up to 15 years in prison. At no point, as per the video footage, did Ryans ever resist arrest.
Pearce arrived at Ryans’ house after a neighbor called and said Ryans and his wife were arguing. Ryans was about to leave home to get to his job as a train engineer.
Taught to Cooperate
Ryans, raised in Alabama, later said he had been taught to cooperate in any encounter with law enforcement. That meant putting his hands up, which he did, and getting on the ground if that is what the cops told you to do.
While Pearce was telling him to drop on the ground, another officer was yelling at him to come to him and let him know how to enter the backyard. Ryans was afraid if he did the wrong thing, he would end up getting shot. There was no running, no fighting, just cooperating on Ryans’ part.
As Tuco, the dog, sunk his teeth into Ryans’ leg, Pearce kept telling him he was a “good boy,” even as Ryan screamed in pain and begged him to stop the attack. Pearce later told the Salt Lake City Civilian Review Board that Ryans was holding on to the fence in an attempt to get up, and he sicced the dog on him to stop Ryans from getting up and fighting with him. However, the Civilian Review Board saw nothing on the video footage to back up Pearce’s statement.
Terrible Injuries and a Lost Job
The consequences for Ryans go far beyond that April morning. He suffered serious leg injuries requiring multiple surgeries. He lost his job. He can no longer play sports with his children. In his words, he felt like “a chew toy.”
His leg may require amputation in the future. He suffered a prolonged loss of use of his left leg, and the bites have left extensive scarring and impairment. Due to nerve damage, Ryans cannot feel his ankle, making walking very difficult.
Ryans has filed a notice of claim with the Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD), the initial step towards filing a lawsuit. The notice states that Pearce’s use of force was unnecessary, and the injury avoidable had Pearce “performed appropriate actions” when arresting Ryans. Ryans’ attorney alleges that Pearce reacted in the manner he did due to Ryans’ race.
His caucasian lawyer pointed out that he and his wife have argued, but no one ever called the cops. Although Ryans wife did file a protective order against him in December, the couple had been living together for weeks after his wife told him the protective order was lifted.
It is not clear who called the police about the argument, but it was not his wife. Police agree no violence occurred between the couple that night.
Police Dog Suspension
As a result of the incident, the SLCPD has suspended the use of its K-9 patrol for suspect engagement until authorities reviewed city policies and practices.
If you are injured or a family member is wrongfully killed or suffers an injury during an arrest, while you are in custody, or when you are in state or federal jail or prison – you can sue. Contact our lawyers at 866.836.4684 or online to learn more.