SALT LAKE CITY — Following an audit of the use of police K-9s to apprehend suspects over the past four years, the Salt Lake City Police Department has identified 19 incidents they’re concerned about that they believe require a second look.
On Friday, body camera videos of all 19 of those incidents were made public.
“In the interest of being open and transparent, we are making public one video for each of the 19 cases that we have identified need further review,” Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown said in a prepared statement. “We have worked diligently to perform this audit and are taking the initiative to conduct similar audits in all divisions of the police department.”
Several of the videos show suspects who either have their hands in the air, are already on the ground, or both, and do not appear to be resisting or running away. But K-9 officers can be heard repeatedly giving commands of “hit him” or “get him” to encourage the dog to latch onto an arm or leg.
Some examples of the cases Salt Lake police have flagged as needing a review from prosecutors in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office include:
- On Dec. 26, 2016, police were called to investigate a man in a domestic violence case who had run away from the scene. Police were told the man may be armed. The man was found sitting at a bus stop. In body camera video, the man is sitting with his head lowered as he holds his cellphone. He does not resist or attempt to flee.
“Hit it,” the officer commands his K-9.
“I’m not doin’ nothing,” the man cries as the dog bites him.
The dog appears in the video to have a hold of the man's hand as he screams in pain while the officer continues to command him to show his hands.
- On Jan. 2, 2018, while assisting Adult Probation and Parole looking for a man with warrants out for his arrest, police find the man inside an apartment. In body camera video, the man is lying on the ground with his hands out to his side, when a K-9 is deployed and grabs ahold of his arm.
“Show me your hands!” an officer yells.
“They’re right here,” the man yells back, followed by an expletive at the officer.
- On Aug. 6, 2018, police were chasing a man believed to be involved in a domestic violence situation. With one officer already on top of the man who is on the ground, a K-9 officer tells the man to put his hands behind his back or he is going to get bit. Another officer throws punches at the man and appears to briefly pin his head on the ground with his hand.
“I can’t breathe,” the man yells several times.
As the K-9 bites the man’s leg, the man is heard yelling in pain as the officer tells him to quit resisting.
- On Oct. 20, 2018, officers stopped an armed robbery suspect following a car chase. The man was walking backward toward the officers — who had their guns drawn — with his hands up and was not resisting, when police say a K-9 “bit him unintentionally.” But the dog continued to latch onto the man. The man is heard yelling in pain and saying, “God help me.”
- On July 28, 2019, police chased after a jaywalking suspect who ran away from them. A K-9 officer is seen driving up to the scene, and immediately after exiting his vehicle he deploys his K-9 on the man who is already on the ground being arrested by another officer.
“Stop resisting,” the officer commands.
“I am,” the man yells back as the dog latches onto his elbow.
- On March 15, 2020, police were looking for a domestic violence suspect who was reportedly armed with a gun. When officers find the man, he is already on the ground with his hands lifted in the air to his side. A police K-9 is deployed but initially runs past the man, apparently not even noticing him before finally latching onto him.
“I’m not attacking. I’m not resisting,” the man tells police, at one point even calmly asking them to “please” call off the dog.
Still, the officer tells the man, “I’m not (expletive) around.”
- On April 9, police responded to a report of an assault outside a convenience store. The suspect disobeys commands to get on the ground, but walks away calmly and appears to just ignore the officer’s commands. A K-9 is deployed and twice runs by him before finally biting him.
- On June 5, police respond to a report of a teenager who had broken into a business and attempted to start a fire. The boy is standing on a counter with his hands in the air and is not attempting to flee, when a K-9 is deployed. At first, the dog appears to not notice the boy, who is not resisting. Then an officer points the dog in the boy’s direction and the dog bites him. Officers tell the boy to get on the ground as he cries in pain from the dog bite.
According to the Salt Lake Police Policy Manual, an officer may use a police dog to apprehend a suspect “if the canine handler reasonably believes that the individual has either committed, is committing or threatening to commit any serious offense” and if there is an imminent threat of harm to the public, the suspect is physically resisting, or the suspect is concealed in an area that would pose a threat to officers.
After the release of the videos Friday, the Salt Lake City Council issued a statement calling them “extremely disturbing.”
“City Council members 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.”
The council said it supports Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s suspension of the K-9 apprehension program pending further review.
“Salt Lake City residents have made it clear they expect more from our city government. Change is happening, and more is on its way. Overall, the council is concerned and saddened, and will wait for the outcome of the investigation before commenting any further.”
As of Friday, the K-9 apprehension unit and the four dogs who are part of it remain suspended indefinitely. A total of six officers have been placed on administrative leave pending a review of the 19 cases.
While Salt Lake police have flagged 19 incidents they believe should be reviewed by the district attorney’s office, that office has requested to review all 34 cases involving the use of a police K-9 for the purpose of arresting a suspect, dating back to 2016.
Eleven of the 34 cases under review occurred this year. And 21 of the 34 cases occurred within the last two years.
The district attorney’s office released its own statement Friday, saying it is grateful to the Salt Lake City Police Department “for their commitment to transparency and willingness to confront uncomfortable truths.”
The audit and subsequent review of the department’s K-9 unit came under scrutiny earlier this year after body camera video was released showing a seemingly compliant Jeffrey Ryans, 36, kneeling in his yard with his hands in the air. But then the Black man’s leg was bitten by a police dog, causing serious injury, after an officer deployed that dog.
The incident happened in April, but didn't receive attention until the body camera video became public in August.
Shortly after its release, Mendenhall suspended the use of police K-9s for apprehending suspects on Aug. 12 pending a review of the unit.
Then on Sept. 16, Nickolas John Pearce, 39, of Herriman — a 14-year veteran with the Salt Lake City Police Department and the K-9 handler who allegedly released his dog, Tuco, on Ryans — was charged by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office with aggravated assault, a second-degree felony.
That was followed by a censure of the K-9 apprehension program by the mayor on Sept. 25. At that time, the mayor and Salt Lake police also announced that an audit was being conducted of all dog bite incidents over the past four years and that the apprehension program would remain suspended indefinitely.
Following the disclosure by Salt Lake police that several of their old K-9 cases may need review, the district attorney’s office met with other agencies on Sept. 28 “to discuss how to work collectively to gather accurate information and develop recommendations about the uses of K-9s throughout Salt Lake County,” the office stated.
District Attorney Sim Gill said the request for information from other agencies was sent out Oct. 2.
“We will review all materials provided to our office in connection with our records request and we will act as appropriate and necessary to fulfill and perform our statutory duties consistent with the law,” he said.