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Judge orders K-9 handler to stand trial for aggravated assault

Posted at 5:00 PM, Dec 15, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY — A judge Thursday ordered a Salt Lake City police officer to stand trial for aggravated assault for siccing his K-9 on a suspect who had his hands up.

The officer, Nickolas Pearce, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. He entered a not guilty plea at a hearing Thursday with Judge William Kendall.

Kendall scheduled a trial to begin June 5. Pearce’s attorneys declined to comment to FOX 13 after the hearing.

Salt Lake City’s police union issued a statement as follows:

The Executive Board of the Salt Lake Police Association is disappointed and angry by the judge’s decision to bind this case over for trial.

We believe that Officer Pearce not only followed SLCPD policy but was also within the law while effecting the arrest of an alleged domestic violence suspect.

The Executive Board and our Members will continue to stand behind Officer Pearce and support him through this trial.

This decision is highly concerning to the SLPA because of the potential chilling effect that this will have on law enforcement statewide.

Prosecutors argued Pearce exceeded the reasonable use of force when he ordered his dog to attack Jeffrey Ryans in Ryans’ backyard on April 24, 2020.

Ryans had his hands up on and one knee already on the ground when Pearce is heard on video order his K-9, Tuco, to “hit.” Ryans is then heard screaming.

Ryans testified in July that he has had multiple surgeries and has undergone physical therapy and still has no feeling between his shin and his ankle.

Ryans testified the episode contributed to a split from his wife and that he lost his job at Union Pacific because of the leg injuries. Ryans has filed a federal civil lawsuit against Salt Lake City.

In his ruling, Judge Kendall disagreed with the defense’s interpretation of events and said there was evidence Pearce exceeded reasonable use of force.

In July, Judge Kendall dismissed a second felony assault charge against Pearce when a witness who was in jail did not appear to testify. In that episode, Pearce was accused of lifting Tuco to bite a woman in a car.

Pearce remains employed but on administrative leave with Salt Lake City police.