A Grover Beach police officer who resigned after his police-trained pet Belgian Malinois killed one neighbor and mauled another is now facing a third felony charge — involuntary manslaughter.
Though the new charge does not change the maximum possible sentence former officer Alex Geiger already faced if convicted, it allows prosecutors more options as the case enters the preliminary hearing phase, District Attorney Dan Dow said Monday.
Geiger, 25, appeared in court Monday for a scheduled preliminary hearing in which evidence would have been presented before a judge, who would have decided whether there was enough of a case to proceed to trial on the already-filed charges of failing to maintain control over a dangerous animal resulting in injury or death. Geiger previously pleaded not guilty.
Instead, Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner filed a motion to amend the existing complaint to include the manslaughter charge. The preliminary hearing was then continued to July 18 to allow Geiger and his attorney, Visalia-based John Jackson, time to prepare their defense and enter a plea.
Jackson could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Geiger already was facing a maximum of up to four years in prison on the two initial charges. Dow said that Wagner, since taking over the case, decided to file the involuntary manslaughter charge to provide the prosecution more options when the case is scrutinized by a judge during the preliminary hearing.
For the previous charges — failing to maintain control over a dangerous animal — Wagner must prove simple negligence and that Geiger had knowledge of his dog’s propensity for violence, Dow said. For involuntary manslaughter, Wagner has to prove gross negligence, a higher standard, but doesn’t have to prove that Geiger was aware the dog was dangerous.
Dow said evidence in the case proves all three charges, but Geiger could not be sentenced for all three under state law, meaning his maximum exposure remains about four years.
On Dec. 13, Geiger’s two pet dogs, the Belgian Malinois and a German shepherd, somehow got loose from Geiger’s home and attacked 86-year-old Betty Long, who lived down the street in the 1100 block of Nacimiento Avenue, as she walked her dog. Long’s neighbor, 64-year-old David Fear, came to her aid and was also attacked. He died three days later in a local hospital.
The Beligian Malinois named Neo was euthanized that afternoon, but the German shepherd was spared after officials later determined it was not the aggressor in the incident. That dog was sent to live in a secure private residence outside of SLO County.
Geiger, who was not home at the time of the attack, resigned from the Grover Beach Police Department on Feb. 1, one day before charges were filed. Though the city did not identify Geiger as the dogs’ owner for more than a week, it was quick to point out the dogs were not associated with the Police Department.
Geiger had been hired three months prior to the attack, leaving a post in the city of Exeter in Tulare County, where he was a member of that Police Department’s K-9 unit.
A Tribune investigation revealed that Neo had been Geiger’s K-9 partner in Exeter, where it was trained and served as a “working police dog,” according to records provided by the Exeter Police Department. Records also showed that Neo had previously bit a trainer before being taken out of service and purchased by Geiger as a pet.
Records also show that at the time of the attack, Geiger was lobbying Grover Beach Police Chief John Peters to start a K-9 unit. Peters has told The Tribune the department had no interest in a K-9 unit.
Attorneys for Long and the Fear family have said they plan to file lawsuits against Grover Beach and possibly Exeter over the attack, though none had been filed as of Monday.
Geiger’s July 18 preliminary hearing is expected to include a full day of testimony, according to court records.