[Updated: Salt Lake City suspends use of police dogs after a Black man was bit while complying]
When the police arrived at the home of Jeffery Ryans early one morning in April, the 36-year-old was startled, but said his reaction was almost instinctive.
Growing up as a Black man in Alabama, he said, you’re taught to cooperate. Put your hands up when you’re told. Get on the ground if they say so.
That’s what he was trying to do on April 24 when Salt Lake City police were called to his house after someone heard him arguing with his wife.
Body camera footage from the officers show Ryans was in his backyard smoking a cigarette — he says he was about to leave for his job as a train engineer — when the officers shined their lights on him and started yelling.
“Get on the ground!” one officer yelled, as his police dog barked. “Get on the ground or you’re going to get bit!”
Ryans dropped what was in his hands and put them in the air.
He recalled in an interview that he was confused. He didn’t know where to go or what to do: One officer was yelling for him to come to him, while another screamed to get on the ground.
He was worried if he did the wrong thing, he would get shot.
“I wasn’t running,” he recalled. “I wasn’t fighting. I was just cooperating. We’ve been through this. We’ve seen this. Always cooperate with the police, no matter what.”
Bodycam shows that though Ryans was kneeling on the ground with his hands in the air, the K9 officer still ordered his dog to attack.
The dog, Tuco, latched on to Ryans’ left leg, the footage shows. Even as another officer sat on top of Ryans and puts the man in handcuffs, the K9 officer continued to instruct his dog to “hit” — and Tuco responds by biting and tearing at Ryans’ leg.
“Why are you doing this?” Ryans yelled, according to the video. “Why are you biting me?”
“Good boy,” the officer said to his dog, as Ryans screamed in pain.
(Warning: the following video contains violence and swearing.)
It’s body camera video that Ryans can’t watch now. It’s too difficult to watch the dog biting, pulling his leg, knowing that injury has led to multiple surgeries, a lost job and has limited his ability to play sports with his kids.
“I felt like a chew toy,” he said. “I didn’t know why this was happening to me. That’s what was going through my mind. Why?”
Ryans has taken the first steps toward filing a lawsuit against the Salt Lake City Police Department. In a notice of claim, which is required before a suit can be filed, his attorneys, Daniel Garner and Gabriel White, allege that the officer’s use of force was unnecessary — and has caused an injury that could have been avoided if the officer “performed the appropriate actions” while arresting Ryans.
They say Ryans has suffered nerve and tendon damage, infections and has difficulty walking. Doctors have not ruled out the possibility he will need to have his leg amputated.
White alleges that officers reacted the way they did because his client is Black.
The attorney, who is white, said he’s been in similar situations where he’s had an argument with his wife or been in his backyard in the middle of the night letting his dog out. But the police never come, especially not with a K9 dog.
“What’s different between the two of us that could make this happen to him, but I couldn’t imagine happening to me?” he said. “No one’s ever shown up at my house.”
On Tuesday, the department issued a statement referencing The Salt Lake Tribune’s reporting, saying that it has launched an internal affairs investigation after learning of the incident that morning. However, the notice that Ryans intended to sue was filed July 20 and The Tribune also called the police seeking comment last Thursday. A spokesman for the police department said at that time he could not comment because of the expected lawsuit.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a tweet Tuesday that she has conveyed to Chief Mike Brown “the urgency to complete the internal affairs investigation in the matter of Mr. Jeffery Ryans and be as transparent as possible with the public about the process and results.”
It’s not clear from the body camera footage who called police to Ryans’ home, but the man said it wasn’t his wife.
Police sought to arrest Ryans because his wife had filed a protective order last December and he wasn’t supposed to be in their home. Court records show Ryans is facing domestic violence charges for an incident that occurred around that time, but charging documents offer no other details about what happened.
Ryans said his wife had told him that the protective order was lifted, and he had been back in their home for weeks before the police were called in April. He didn’t know that her request to have the protective order lifted was still pending — so he was technically in violation of it at the time of his arrest.
Ryans now faces a charge of violating that protective order, but no court dates have been set.
The man, who has lived in Salt Lake City for the more than 15 years, says he wanted to publicly talk about what happened to him during a time when people have been protesting for months supporting Black Lives Matter and opposing police brutality.
He says police often treat Black people differently, and he wanted Utahns to see that it’s happening here.
Ryans says he worked hard to get to where he is. He went to college, has a career and raised a family with his wife in a home they own. But he said that when that officer ordered his dog to keep biting him, it showed none of that mattered.
“People need to know Black lives matter,” he said. “Everybody matters, but you can’t just treat people differently because of their religion or their skin color. I developed myself to get to where I’m at right now. I should have the same respect as others. We don’t get it.”