Salt Lake City officer charged with aggravated assault after K9 attack

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Prosecutors have filed a felony charge against a Salt Lake City officer accused of commanding his police dog to attack a man as he knelt with his hands up, resulting in several injuries.

Officer Nickolas Pearce, 39, was charged with second-degree aggravated assault in connection with the April 24 incident, KSTU-TV reported.

Pearce used "unlawful force" when he allegedly ordered his K9, "Tuco," to bite Jeffrey Ryans during a domestic violence response call, according to a probable cause statement.

Ryans, who is Black, was not resisting arrest, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“He certainly wasn’t posing an imminent threat of violence or harm to anyone, and he certainly wasn’t concealed," Gill said. "He was fenced in an area and was being compliant.”

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Warning: The following video is violent. 

"When K9 Tuco engaged and was biting Ryans, [Pearce] continually praised and encouraged K9 Tuco," the probable cause statement said, according to the news station.

"While he was being attacked by K9 Tuco, Ryans expressed extreme emotions reflective of pain from being bitten by K9 Tuco and pleaded with the officers to stop the biting. He questioned why he was being attacked when he was not resisting."

Ryans’ attorney, Gabriel White, previously said that Ryans and his wife had an argument in December that resulted in her seeking a protection order against him, but they had since reconciled. Ryans had been back in the house for weeks.

The police department said it had been called to the home several times for domestic violence issues.

Ryans was hospitalized for lacerations and arrested for violating a protection order. He had multiple surgeries on his leg, which became infected.

"It's very difficult not to see how race could play a factor here," one of Ryans' attorneys, Gabriel White, told the news station in an interview last month.

Pearce was placed on leave in August and the department suspended the use of K9s after body camera footage of the incident was released.

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In a statement, the department said it takes seriously the district attorney's office decision to file criminal charges as well as the findings of the Civilian Review Board.

"Both will be evaluated and taken into account as the Department is finalizing its Internal Affairs investigation," it said.

Fox News' Paul Best contributed to this report. 

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