Salt Lake City videos show 19 questionable cases where police dogs bit suspects

(Screenshot via Salt Lake City Police Department/YouTube) Police body camera footage shows an interaction between a suspect and a K-9 on May 17, 2020.

Salt Lake City police have released video of 19 cases flagged during a review of its K-9 arrest program, which Mayor Erin Mendenhall said uncovered a “pattern of abuse of power.

The videos, ranging from about two minutes to nearly 30, are often of arrests made at night. They do not identify the officers involved. One from 2016 showed a man holding a cellphone at a bus stop who wasn’t resisting when an officer instructs the dog to “hit."

“I’m not doing nothing” the man said as he was crying out in pain.

In another from June, a boy accused of breaking into a business is caught by officers standing on a counter. He falls and while on the ground an officer yells “hit.”

“I’m a 14-year-old! Ow!” the boy screamed as a dog continued to bite him.

The department reviewed a total of 34 cases in an audit sparked by a Salt Lake Tribune story, about police ordering a dog to bite Jeffery Ryans, while he was on his knees with his hands in the air. That officer has already been charged with a felony.

The video of Ryans was one of the 19 released Friday. Others involved suspects complying with officers or hiding while officers are attempting to find and arrest them. Nine of the cases are from this year, while five are from 2019, four are from 2018 and one is from 2016.

Salt Lake City police forwarded these cases to the Salt Lake District Attorney’s Office to potentially file criminal charges against the officers involved. District Attorney Sim Gill has said his office will review all cases where a police dog bit a suspect in recent years.

The K-9 Apprehension Program, and the four dual-purpose dogs associated with it, will remain suspended indefinitely, the department said in a statement Friday. And Police Chief Mike Brown has placed six officers on paid administrative leave. He added that the department would conduct “similar audits in all divisions.”

“This footage is upsetting,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a statement Friday, “but its release and the investigation of these cases by the district attorney’s office, the civilian review board, and internal affairs is critical to our vision for a police department that is always transparent, accountable, and fair. Anything less than that is an insult to our residents and the many fine officers who are committed to serving and protecting our city.”

The release of footage “is an important step in our commitment to the people of Salt Lake City for transparency and accountability,” Mendenhall said.

The videos “are extremely disturbing,” members of the Salt Lake City Council said in a joint statement Friday. The seven members said they “are distressed by officers who appear to order their dogs to bite suspects unnecessarily, causing pain and injury. This should never happen. Our residents should not fear any visit by SLC officers.”

Gill’s office, in a statement, said it has started to gather information about K-9 units across Salt Lake County.

The district attorney invited police chiefs for a meeting on Sept. 28, and, “to their credit, every chief we invited attended,” the statement said. “The conversation was robust and productive,” and the chiefs showed “a strong commitment to justice and transparency.”

On Oct. 2, the district attorney’s office sent out requests for records from K-9 units around the county. Gill’s staff “will review all materials provided to our office in connection with our records request,” the statement said.

Salt Lake Police officials said they only learned of the dog bite that Ryans sustained after The Tribune’s initial Aug. 11 story, even though a reporter sought comment beforehand and Ryans' lawyers filed a notice that they were intending to sue on July 20.

Bodycam footage shows that Ryans was kneeling on the ground with his hands in the air when Officer Nickolas Pearce ordered his dog Tuco to bite Ryans.

Video shows that officers are telling Ryans different commands — get on the ground and to approach an officer — and Ryans said in an interview that he worried if he listened to the wrong officer, he’d be 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.”

Ryans attorneys argue that the attack happened because their client is Black.

Gill’s office charged Pearce with second-degree felony aggravated assault. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Salt Lake City’s civilian review board found that city leaders didn’t know about the dog bite because Pearce’s supervising lieutenant never reported it to upper management, as required by policy. That lieutenant has since retired, according to the board’s findings.

Mendenhall has said the department has changed policy to ensure no use of force goes unreported up the proper chain of command again.

“The culture of an organization is shaped by the worst behavior a leader is willing to tolerate,” she said at a Sept. 25 news conference. “We are here to tell you that this culture ends here and now.”

The investigation against the K-9 units is “a fishing expedition” by Gill, said Ian Adams, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Utah chapter, which represents police officers statewide.

“It’s a damn shame,” Adams said. The investigations, he said, are a move by Gill, “looking out for his political ambitions. And he’s doing it this way, instead of looking out for public safety, the way he should be.”

The FOP has a crowdfunding campaign in support of the Salt Lake City K-9 unit, which claims the unit is “being left out in the cold by their police chief, mayor, and even their own overwhelmed, overworked and unsupported union.” The campaign has a goal of $50,000; as of Friday afternoon, it had collected $3,360 in pledged donations.

A call for comment from the union representing Salt Lake City cops, the Salt Lake Police Association, was not returned Friday. Steven Winters, the president of the Salt Lake City Police Association, previously said suspending the K-9 apprehension program was a politically motivated “knee-jerk reaction.”

“Suspending this program is very dangerous not just for the officer, but the public,” he said. “It’s an intermediary tool. ... It’s just one element that is now taken away from our arsenal of tools.”

Here is a summary of the other 18 videos released Friday:

Canine Incident 16-242388

December 2016

Police were called to arrest a man who allegedly assaulted a woman near 253 W. 400 North.

Officers found the man sitting alone inside a bus shelter, stooped over his phone. The officer demands that the man show his hands and orders him to put down his phone.

“Get off the phone or you’re going to get bit,” the officer warned.

However, when the man raises his hands — still holding the phone — another officer orders him not to. At that point, the K-9 officer instructs his dog to “hit.” The dog bites the man near his shoulder and drags him off the bench and onto the snowy sidewalk.

“I’m not doing nothing!” the man said, crying out in pain.

Canine Incident 18-1015

Jan. 2, 2018

Adult Probation and Parole officers were searching for a suspect wanted for aggravated assault and domestic violence. They found him at an apartment at 253 W. 400 North.

“This is the police, come to the door,” officers shout. “We’re going to send a dog in. This is your last warning. Come out now!”

They enter the living room and eventually instruct the man to crawl to them. The video appears to show the suspect motionless on the floor with his arms outstretched. He shouted vulgarities. The officer then tells his dog to “hit that guy,” and the canine attacks, repeatedly biting his arm.

Canine Incident 18-1704

Jan. 3, 2018

Officers locate a stolen cab using the taxi company’s GPS and a chase ensues. Video shows officers surrounding the car at 1533 S. State St., where the suspect refuses to get out. A Unified police officer at one point uses tear gas.

Shortly afterward, toward the end of the 27-minute video, the suspect suddenly exits the car and a police dog bounds toward him.

“Get on the ground,” the officer yells. Then, he instructs his dog to “Hit, hit, hit!”

The dog enters the passenger side of the car and pulls the man out by his leg, helped by an officer who grabs the man’s top half.

The dog continues to bite long after officers have surrounded the man and wrestled him to the ground.

Canine incident 18-142155

Aug. 6, 2018

Officers chase a suspect through the darkness near 50 S. 500 West. The man was suspected of being involved in a domestic violence incident.

During the chase, an officer releases his dog and the animal takes the man down. An officer yells for him to “Hit! Hit!” and a second officer appears, striking the man repeatedly with his forearm while the suspect is on the ground.

The dog retreats and, shortly afterward, the first officer screams for the suspect to “get your hands behind your back! You’re going to get bit!”

“I can’t breathe,” the suspect yells, his face in the grass.

The officer then pulls the dog around and instructs it to bite the man’s bare legs.

“Good boy,” he says to the dog, and he instructs the suspect to “stop resisting” as the man screams in pain.

Canine incident 18-193004

Oct. 20, 2018

Police order a robbery suspect out of his car during a traffic stop on S.R. 201 near 3200 West.

After a back and forth, the suspect gets out and slowly walks backward toward the officers with his hands in the air. When he gets close enough, an officer grabs him, takes him to the ground and puts him in handcuffs.

Though the suspect appears to be complying, a police dog bites him as he lays on the ground. “God help me!” the man yells between expletives.

It doesn’t appear that the officer instructed the dog to “hit,” but the video shows the officer let the dog get multiple bites in before pulling it off.

The department said in a note accompanying the video that “the canine officer stated his dog was in close proximity to the suspect and bit him unintentionally, but the officer left the dog on as the suspect was resisting.”

Canine incident 19-1524

Jan. 3, 2019

Officers respond to a call where a man is accused of breaking into a house and assaulting the person who lived there.

As officers were briefed outside, one reported there was “no weapons intel.” As they went inside, they shouted warnings that anyone hiding would be bitten by a police dog. They find the suspect in the backyard hiding between a fence and a hot tub.

“Show me your hands!” the officer instructs the suspect while calling on his dog to “hit.”

The man then puts his hands up and rolls on his stomach.

Canine Incident 19-4685

Jan. 9, 2019

Police confront a man they suspect of trying to break into cars around 600 W. North Temple. Police believe the man to be under the influence of a narcotic.

The video shows the man calm and cooperating at first but he starts to struggle when officers try to handcuff him. The man collapses onto the sidewalk, as officers pile on top of him while ordering him to “give up your hand.”

After a few seconds, the K-9 officer instructs his dog to “hit.” The dog appears to bite the man on his side for several seconds until police put him in handcuffs. Officers stand around while they wait for medical personnel, speculating the man was too intoxicated to feel pain.

“I don’t think he knows what’s going on,” one officer says.

Canine Incident 19-7635

Jan. 13, 2019

Officers and two police dogs help in the arrest a robbery suspect at a motel at 1899 S. State St. The video shows officers yelling through the closed motel room door.

“I said come out right now,” the officer says. “What do you not understand about that?”

The officers uses a key to open the room, but the robbery suspect hides behind a woman and then behind the door.

The recording shows a police dog lunging through the open door and pulling out a man, who ends up on the sidewalk outside. As officers struggle to put handcuffs on the man, one dog bites his upper thigh while another latches onto his calf. After a few seconds, the officers fasten handcuffs onto the man and the struggle ends.

Canine Incident 19-138126

July 28, 2019

An officer attempts to stop a man who was jaywalking around 500 S. 500 East. The man runs and the officer chases, eventually tackling him and struggles to get him in handcuffs. Other officers arrive, one with a police dog.

The footage shows one of the officers ordering the dog to bite the suspect repeatedly, as another orders the man to “stop resisting.”

“I am,” the man pleads, groaning in pain.

Canine Incident 19-218463

Nov. 20, 2019

An officer with a police dog look through a large industrial building near 803 W. Layton Ave. for a burglary suspect.

Before the officers enter, they shout a warning through the bay door, telling anyone inside to identify themselves or a police dog would search the place. Eventually, the officer and the dog go into a loft area and a man says hello from across the room. The dog runs over and begins attacking as the handler instructs him to “hit.”

Officers order the suspect to get on the ground and give them his hands, while the dog keeps attacking and the man screams in pain.

“Please, please stop it,” the man begs officers. “Oh my god.”

“Dog comes off when you’re on your stomach,” an officer responds.

As police handcuff the man, the dog remains clamped on his ankle. The officer tugs at the dog and comments that he won’t let go, and it’s a few seconds before the canine releases the man.

Canine Incident 20-16488

Jan. 25, 2020

Police use a dog to track down a woman who was reportedly hiding in an abandoned building near 225 S. 400 East. Police had already arrested one person and they were looking for others.

The officer lets his dog off leash to explore the yard before police find the woman inside.

“If you’re in the building, call out now or you’re gonna get bit!” an officer calls through the darkened doorway.

A woman says “over here” and the officer orders her to walk out with her hands raised. After several seconds of no response, the officer sends in the dog, telling it to “find the guy.” The dog runs into the corner and the dog begins to bite the woman and she cries in pain. The officer yells at her not to fight back.

“I’m not fighting!” she says.

“Let go of my dog’s face!” the officer screams.

The officer tells her to get onto her stomach. The woman is lying on the ground but rolling back and forth as the dog attacks her. After several seconds, officers take her into custody.

Canine Incident 20-25074

Feb. 8, 2020

Police brought a dog to investigate a burglary alarm. An officer knocks on the door and identifies himself but doesn’t appear to get a response. The officer uses a key to get inside. He lets the dog check the place out, warning the suspect that he’ll get bitten if he doesn’t exit. The officer finds the suspect hiding behind a door and orders his dog to “hit.”

Canine Incident 20-36249

Feb. 25, 2020

Officers find an ambulance that had been stolen near North Temple and B Street. As a woman gets out, the officer tells the dog to bite, and the woman goes to the ground. The officer tells her to get on her stomach, and the woman screams as the dog bites her arm.

“Hold still lady. Don’t fight,” the officer says.

“Please!” the woman yells.

The officer tells the dog to let go.

Canine Incident 20-49094

March 15, 2020

Police respond to a call of domestic violence near 49 S. 800 East. Officers search and find the man in a parking lot. The man gets on his stomach and has his hands in the air. Still, the officer tells his dog to go after the man. The dog bites the man’s leg, as police ask the man if he has a gun.

“Can you tell the dog to let go, please?” the man asks.

Police put the man’s hands behind his back, and the officer releases the dog.

Canine Incident 20-49176

March 16, 2020

Police respond to 317 S. Vincent Court after a man kicked in a front door of a house he didn’t live in and hid in the basement.

The officer and the dog open a closed basement door and the officer tells the dog to “hit” as another officer tells the man to show his hands.

The dog bites the man, who is on the ground. The officer says he will not release the dog until the man puts his hands behind his back. When the other officers handcuff the man, the dog stops biting.

Canine Incident 20-63100

April 9, 2020

Police confront a man outside a convenience store at 887 E. 400 South. The officer repeatedly yells, “Put your hands on the back of your head. Now! Right now!” The man walks toward the officer with his hands on his hips.

The officer tells the dog to go after the man, but the dog runs by and misses him twice. When the officer yells for the dog to come back, the dog jumps on the man, and the man pushes the dog away. The officer and the dog go toward the man again. The man falls on a bush as the dog bites him.

“Get your hands behind your back,” the officer says.

The dog keeps biting as other officers handcuff the man.

Canine Incident 20-86367

May 17, 2020

Officers responded to the report of a burglary at an LDS distribution center at 1999 W. 1700 South.

A security guard has the suspect and is trying to get the man’s hands behind his back. The officer yells, “Get on the ground, or you’re going to get bit!” The man resists the security guard. The officer yells “hit,” and the dog bites the man’s leg.

The officer pushes the man to the ground as the dog continues to bite him. Other officers handcuff the man and the dog lets go.

Canine Incident 20-98049

June 5, 2020

Police are called to a business at 575 E. 500 South, where a young person broke in and is accused of attempting to start a fire.

An officer from outside yells, “Come out or I’m going to send the dog! You will get bit!” Another officer says the boy has “scissors in his hand” but has dropped them.

As police go inside, the boy is standing on a counter with his hands up.

Police tell him to get on the ground. The youth eventually falls off the counter. Now on his stomach, an officer repeatedly tells his dog to “hit.” The boy screams as an officer pushes their head to the ground.

“I’m a 14-year-old! Ow!” the boy yells.

When the boy grabs the dog’s ear, an officer tells them to “stop fighting the dog.” He lets go, and the officer grabs the boy’s hand. He yells, “Please, please!”

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