SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Salt Lake City police officer has been charged with aggravated assault a second time for ordering a dog to attack someone who complied with officers' orders, prosecutors said.
K9 Officer Nickolas Pearce was charged Tuesday with lifting up his K9 Tuco so the dog could bite a woman who was in a suspected stolen vehicle in 2019, according to charging documents. The latest charge resulted from an investigation by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's office into the city's misuse of police dogs.
Prosecutors say the woman followed police orders to turn off the vehicle, throw out the keys and put her hands out the window. She was ordered to get out but remained in the car. She instead kept her arms outside the window and "was not making any threats or aggressive moves towards the officers," according to charging documents.
Pearce then allegedly directed his dog to the vehicle and lifted him up so the dog could reach the woman's extended arms. Prosecutors claim he then commanded Tuco to "hit" and the dog bit her arm, causing "significant lacerations" and long-term damage to her forearm.
Pearce was first charged with aggravated assault in September for ordering Tuco to attack a Black man who had put his hands in the air in April 2020. After the man went public with his story in an article in The Salt Lake Tribune, the police department said it was opening an investigation and suspended the use of police dogs in apprehensions.
After an internal audit, the Salt Lake City police department said they identified 34 bites over the past four years but released footage from 19 of them that "needed further review." The latest case of the woman being bitten was not included in the videos that were released.
Defense attorney Tara Isaacson told The Salt Lake Tribune in both cases her client "deployed his dog in a scenario consistent with his training and department policy."
"Each case was reviewed by supervisors and no concerns were ever expressed," she said in a statement. "Each case was also previously reviewed by the district attorney's office when charges were screened against the suspects in each case. No concerns were raised at that time either."