Salt Lake City Police Department suspended its K9 program on Wednesday, the day after an officer released body camera footage showing his dog repeatedly kneeling a black man on the floor with his hands up.
In a statement, the department said it hired outside experts to conduct a thorough review of program policies and procedures while various investigations looked into the April 24 incident in which 36-year-old Jeffrey Ryans was seriously injured, one of which his lawyers said they might require an amputation.
K9 official Nickolas Pearce involved in the encounter has been taken on administrative leave while the city̵
“I’m worried about what I saw on this video, frustrated with how the situation was handled, and I’m committed to ensuring that neither happens again,” tweeted Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. on Wednesday.
Ryans’ attorneys, a train engineer, said in an interview Wednesday that he was getting ready to go to work early that morning when officers arrived at his wife’s where he was staying.
In disturbing body camera footage, first published by the Salt Lake City Tribune and received by NBC News, officers are seen talking to Ryans, who is standing in the back yard of the house. “I only go to work,” he says. An officer asks how they can get to the courtyard. Another seems to be saying that Ryans will jump over the fence.
Pearce then appears to go to the other side of the house where he approaches Ryans and says, “Get on the floor or you will get something.”
When Ryans kneels with his hands up, Pearce appears to be saying “hit” and “good boy” while his dog bites Ryan, who repeatedly screams in pain and asks why the dog is biting him.
The Salt Lake Police Department denied a request for an interview with Pearce, and the Salt Lake Police Association did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday night.
In a June 29 lawsuit filed with the Salt Lake City Recorder’s Office – the first step in filing a lawsuit – Ryans attorneys said Pearce’s dog, Tuco, bit him multiple times for about a minute.
Ryan, one of his lawyers, suffered two-inch cuts on each side of his leg, said Gabriel White.
“We saw a lot of dog bites, but this one looks like something else,” he said. “I would have assumed he had a chainsaw accident.”
Salt Lake City police spokesman Detective Greg Wilking said authorities had been called home over a report of domestic violence. Citing the pending lawsuit, Wilking declined to discuss details of the incident, but the body camera footage can be heard telling Ryans after his bite that he violated a protection order and was not allowed to be there.
In an interview on Wednesday, Gabriel White and another attorney, Daniel Garner, said Ryan’s wife had secured the order over the past year because of “disagreements”. The arguments weren’t violent, they said, despite telling Ryans to move out in December. They later reconciled and he moved back in when the coronavirus outbreak began when she asked for help with her three children, they said.
After speaking to someone at the local prosecutor’s office, she believed the protection order had been lifted, they said.
“Unknown to you, a judge has to overturn it,” said Garner.
A request for comment left with the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office was not returned Wednesday. Garner and White declined to make Ryans or his wife available for an interview.
The lawyers said they were not sure who reported the alleged domestic violence on April 24, but there were no allegations that anything violent had happened. “It was just a marital disagreement,” White said. “Then she went to bed.”
Wilking said Ryans was arrested on suspicion of violating a protection order, charges pending.
Garner and White said Ryans was fired after his injury. Several surgeries left him tens of thousands of dollars in debt, they said.
They said the officers named in the claim had 60 days to respond. “If you take responsibility, there will be no lawsuit,” said Garner.
“My client’s main goal is to see the reforms that the nation has been talking about,” Garner said. “And he has a mountain of medical bills to deal with now.”