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SALT LAKE CITY — A man who claims Salt Lake police used excessive force on him in July was arrested Wednesday at the end of a press conference called to announce his lawsuit against an officer and the city.
Police arrested him because they contend he assaulted an officer during that same July incident.
The bizarre scene unfolded in and around the office of the man's attorney, Robert Sykes, at 311 S. State.
Jackie Sanchez, 61, who is homeless, and Sykes announced the federal civil rights lawsuit against Salt Lake City and officer Benjamin Hone, claiming that on July 28, Hone ordered an unprovoked K-9 attack on him — resulting in 42 dog bites and severe injuries.
The dog ripped flesh off Sanchez's leg, causing deep injuries, Sykes said. Sanchez's medical bills were about $30,000 and he was in the hospital for five days, Sykes said. At the press conference, the attorney showed graphic pictures of the injuries to Sanchez's leg near his knee and his hand.
"That is not one little bite. He is ripping away at that flesh,” Sykes said of the attack.
"It was like a nightmare. It seemed unreal, it really did. It seemed unreal. I think this should not happen to anybody. I mean, anybody. It's uncalled for and unjustified," Sanchez said.
But right after Sanchez finished giving his statements to the media, more than a half-dozen Salt Lake police officers arrived at Sykes' office to arrest Sanchez on a warrant charging him with assault on a police officer.
Sykes, who has held many press conferences with clients claiming that police violated their civil rights, said he's never seen that before in his career.
"First time in my life. This is an outrageous event. No. 1, he's innocent. No. 2, he files suit, exercises his First Amendment rights and his Fourth Amendment rights to sue. And in return, the police come and arrest him on a beef that's almost five months old that was never filed until today," Sykes said in disbelief. "I can't believe this happened."
Just as Sanchez was about to start his press conference, Salt Lake police released their own statement that there was a warrant out for Sanchez's arrest.
According to state court records, Sanchez was charged Aug. 8 in 3rd District Court with assault on a police officer, a class A misdemeanor; interfering with an arrest, a class B misdemeanor; and disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor. A warrant was issued for his arrest Sept. 11 when he failed to show up for court.
At Wednesday's press conference, Sanchez — who has an extensive history of mainly misdemeanor crimes including public intoxication and trespassing, according to court records — claimed he wasn't even aware he had been charged in connection with the July incident.
It was like a nightmare. It seemed unreal, it really did. It seemed unreal. I think this should not happen to anybody. I mean, anybody. It's uncalled for and unjustified.
When asked about the timing of Wednesday's arrest, Salt Lake police detective Robert Ungricht said it was Sanchez's own press conference that tipped them off.
"We've had a rash of assaults on police officers in the last little while and this was one of those. So we felt it was important to get this out to the public so we could take this individual into custody," he said. "We just want to send a message that we're not going to tolerate our officers being assaulted. We've had a whole bunch of that going on lately and we don't appreciate that."
As for the July 28 incident, Sanchez and police have opposite opinions of what happened. Both sides claim they were assaulted and both Sanchez and Salt Lake police claim they have witnesses and surveillance video that supports their position.
Hone, a decorated officer who was called a hero in 2015 for rescuing two women being held at knifepoint by shooting and killing the suspect, was on his way to work when he heard a call of two intoxicated men creating a disturbance at the Salt Lake City and County Building. Because he was close, he decided to respond. He found Sanchez and his friend at a bus stop in front of the Matheson Courthouse, 450 S. State.
Because Hone hadn't been into the office yet, he was not wearing his body camera.
Hone said Sanchez became verbally abusive. "Sanchez told officer Hone that he would fight him," charging documents state.
Hone told Sanchez to remain on the bench or he would deploy his K-9. When Sanchez got up and took a fighting stance, Hone ordered him to get on the ground, according to the charges, and when he disobeyed the officer's commands, the dog was released on him.
We just want to send a message that we're not going to tolerate our officers being assaulted. We've had a whole bunch of that going on lately and we don't appreciate that.
–Salt Lake police detective Robert Ungricht
Sanchez, however, while admitting he was very intoxicated that day, said he never took a fighting stance against the officer, never forced him into traffic on State Street as the officer claimed, and couldn't get on the ground because of a bad knee.
"The officer told me to lay down, spread my arms. I couldn't and finally I complied with him and I laid down. I complied with him and he cuffed me. And the next thing I know the dog's on me," Sanchez said. "Now I've got to live with this the rest of my life. I just hope these officers understand they can't take the law into their own hands."
Sykes called Hone's police report "largely fabricated."
"This was a very serious violation of Jackie’s civil rights,” he said. "There was no basis at all for this attack. It was basically unprovoked."
Sydney Kapplan was walking her dog near the courthouse when she came across the confrontation. She said Wednesday that while Sanchez was very drunk and "saying things about his civil rights," he did not pose a threat to the officer.
"I couldn't believe I was witnessing this. I mean, I understand that Jackie is not your greatest citizen. He's homeless and all that stuff. But he deserves the same respect as anyone. And the fact he didn't get that because of his stature in life, I think, is wrong," she said.