SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department has halted use of police dogs and placed an officer on administrative leave after he ordered a K-9 to attack a Black man who was kneeling in his yard with his hands in the air.
The department made the announcement Wednesday after launching an internal investigation a day earlier.
Police body camera footage shows a dog latching onto Jeffrey Ryans’ leg repeatedly on April 24, including as another officer sat over his back and handcuffed him. Police responded to a report of a domestic dispute at Ryans’ home that night and ordered him to get on the ground.
Attorneys for the 36-year-old Ryans say his wife told police that night that although the two had been arguing, nothing violent had happened.
“Then five minutes later, my client’s on the ground, being used as a chew toy,” attorney Dan Garner said. The only factor distinguishing the police call from several others the department fields each day is that his client is a Black man, Garner said.
Ryans wants the police department to take responsibility, Garner said, cover Ryans’ mounting medical bills and make permanent changes to its police dog protocol.
Ryans took a step toward suing the department in June, alleging in a legal notice that excessive police force left him with avoidable injuries like nerve and tendon damage, infections, and the possibility he will need to have his left leg amputated.
Body camera footage shows Ryans saying, “I’m on the ground, why are you biting me?” and crying out in pain several times. The officer can be heard saying “good boy” as the dog latches on.
Ryans, a former college basketball player and father of three, is a train engineer who can no longer feel his ankle because of nerve damage and is out of work due to his injuries, Garner said.
He told the Deseret News five or six officers responded to the home that night.
The police department said its internal review will determine whether the force was necessary and why it wasn’t referred to the internal affairs division. It will also pause the use of police dogs in apprehensions as experts evaluate its police dog program, the department said in a Wednesday statement on its website.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Wednesday she is “deeply concerned” that she and senior leaders of the city’s police force learned of the encounter only after news coverage of the arrest surfaced Tuesday.
“We will conduct a thorough review of the breakdown in communication to ensure that it does not happen again,” Mendenhall said in a tweet. “I am disturbed by what I saw in that video, frustrated by how the situation was handled, and am committed to working to ensure neither happen again.”
Garner, Ryans’ attorney, said he does not believe supervisors in the police department were unaware of the issue before Tuesday, noting his law firm sent the legal notice of claim in June.
The department did not return a message Wednesday but pledged transparency at the conclusion of its review. In a statement, it said it is “committed to upholding the highest standard of service and professionalism to the communities we serve and will ensure this case is investigated in a timely manner.”
Police responded to a call from someone other than Ryans’ wife on an allegation that he was violating a protective order, Garner said. His wife had asked to lift the order and Ryans had been living in the house for weeks when police were called, but a judge had not yet signed off on her request, Garner said.
Garner declined an interview on Ryans’ behalf, saying that going public has taken an emotional toll on his client but that Ryans wanted to add to a growing conversation about injustice against Black people.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office is also reviewing the case.