The family of a Grover Beach man fatally mauled by a retired police dog and the 86-year-old woman who survived the attack are suing the former officer who owned the dog, the Police Department and the agency that trained the animal.
On Thursday, Visalia-based attorney John Jackson told The Tribune that he no longer represents former officer Alex Geiger and declined to comment. No other attorney was listed for Geiger in court records.
Neither Grover Beach Police Chief John Peters nor a representative for the Police Department of Exeter, a city in Tulare County where Geiger and the dog were partners, could be reached for comment late Thursday.
Geiger, 25, worked for Grover Beach for about four months before resigning in February, roughly two months after his dog — a Belgian Malinois named Neo — and another later deemed not to have been the aggressor broke free of Geiger’s backyard and mauled Betty Long and neighbor David Fear. Fear, 64, died three days later from complications of blood loss due to bite injuries.
Long suffered a head wound and other serious injuries and is still recovering, according to her attorney.
Geiger is currently facing two felony counts of failing to maintain control of a deadly or dangerous animal and one felony charge of involuntary manslaughter. He’s pleaded not guilty, but a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge ruled in July that enough evidence exists for prosecutors to take the case to trial.
If convicted, Geiger could face a maximum of nearly four years in state prison.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by attorneys for Long, Long’s adult daughter, and Fear’s family, alleges that Geiger, the two departments and Geiger’s former landlords are liable for the injuries and costs incurred by Long and Fear. The lawsuit states that Geiger should have known Neo was dangerous based on its training and that his negligence in housing the dogs led to the fatal attack.
According to the lawsuit, the City of Grover Beach rejected an administrative claim from the parties, which is the first step in filing a lawsuit in court.
The Fear family is seeking unspecified damages for lost income, funeral and burial expenses, and attorney’s fees; Long and her daughter are seeking compensation for lost earnings, past and future medical expenses, and attorney’s fees.
Records obtained by The Tribune revealed that Neo was Geiger’s former K9 partner in Exeter and had been trained by Geiger before being purchased as Geiger’s private pet when he moved to Grover Beach. While there, he lobbied Peters to create a K9 unit; Peters said the idea was never considered.
Records also showed that Neo remained on duty in Exeter despite previously biting a trainer in the hand during an exercise.
In an interview with The Tribune in March, Long recounted that she was walking her small dog outside her home in the 1100 block of Nacimiento Avenue on Dec. 13 when Fear, her next-door neighbor, greeted them outside. Long said Geiger’s dogs appeared out of nowhere and attacked her and Fear.
Court documents revealed that the dogs had escaped their enclosures earlier in the day and chased a mailman, who escaped unharmed, and that neighbors had described the dogs as a problem in the neighborhood.
A case management conference for the lawsuit is scheduled for January.