SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City’s police dog apprehension program will remain suspended indefinitely after an internal audit done after a Black man was bitten found 27 dog bite incidents since 2018, the police chief said Friday.
The audit results were announced weeks after body camera footage was released of an officer directing a dog to attack Jeffery Ryans, who had his hands in the air.
Chief Mike Brown said 18 of the 27 incidents will be referred to the district attorney’s office for further investigation as the department continues the audit to review any dog bite incidents within the past four years.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall called for the “culture of abuse” to end.
“I truly believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and we’re here today to shine a light on this stain in our department,” she said.
Mendenhall said she is not willing to decide whether to permanently terminate the program and would later determine the viability of a reformed program.
The officers involved in the cases have been placed on administrative leave, and officials said body camera footage in the cases will be released within 10 business days.
Ryans was in his backyard on April 24 when police responded to a domestic dispute call. The Salt Lake County district attorney’s office said Ryans complied with officers’ orders to raise his hands and remain in the backyard.
K9 officer Nickolas Pearce then told Ryans to get on the ground before kicking him in the leg, forcing him to his knees and ordering the dog to bite Ryans, prosecutors said.
On body camera footage, Pearce can be heard repeatedly praising the animal and saying “good boy” while it latched onto Ryans’ left leg for about 20 seconds as he was being put in handcuffs.
Ryans underwent surgery and later experienced “prolonged loss of the use” of his leg, prosecutors said. His attorneys have said the officer caused an avoidable injury that resulted in Ryans suffering nerve and tendon damage and infections that could lead to amputation.
After Ryans went public with his story in an article in The Salt Lake Tribune last month, the police department said it was opening an investigation and suspending the use of police dogs in apprehensions.
Prosecutors announced on Sept. 16 that Pearce would be charged with aggravated assault. He has not yet entered a plea or spoken publicly about the incident.
Ryans’ attorneys, Daniel Garner and Gabriel White, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.d