Officer who owned dogs in deadly Grover Beach mauling is placed on leave

David Fear and longtime partner, Terry, in an undated photo. Fear died from injuries suffered in a dog attack last week.
David Fear and longtime partner, Terry, in an undated photo. Fear died from injuries suffered in a dog attack last week.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct David Fear’s date of death.

A Grover Beach police officer who owned two dogs that were involved in an attack that left a good Samaritan dead has been placed on paid administrative leave while officials work to determine if any criminal charges should be filed.

San Luis Obispo County Animal Services officers continued their investigation Monday into the dog mauling death of Grover Beach resident David Fear. Authorities are refusing to identify the dog owner until their investigation is complete.

Fear, 64, died late Friday from wounds he suffered while protecting his 85-year-old neighbor from a Belgian Malinois that attacked the woman as she walked her small dog outside her home. It is not yet known if a second dog at the scene, a German shepherd also owned by the officer, was involved in the attack. That dog remained quarantined by the owner Monday, nearly a week after the Belgian Malinois was euthanized.

Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center spokesman Ron Yukelson said that Betty Long, who suffered serious injuries in the attack, was discharged from the hospital Saturday.

An autopsy of Fear’s body is scheduled for Wednesday, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla said.

On Monday, Animal Services Director Eric Anderson said his agency’s investigation into the incident remained ongoing and its findings have not yet been submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for review, which Anderson said he expects will happen this week.

Though both canine breeds are popular for use in law enforcement, the two dogs were not city-owned animals and Grover Beach does not have a police K-9 program. No information has been released about the animals or whether they were trained in police tactics.

Grover Beach police Chief John Peters on Monday declined to identify the officer, saying he was not able to discuss personnel matters. Anderson also declined to identify him.

The attack occurred about 1:15 p.m. on Dec. 13. When police arrived on the 1100 block of Nacimiento Avenue, they found Fear and Long both injured, with Fear suffering severe bite wounds to his arms and extensive blood loss.

Anderson said the Belgian Malinois, which was the primary aggressor in the attack, was euthanized with the consent of the owner later that afternoon, which Anderson said is not uncommon. Rabies tests on both dogs came back negative, and the German shepherd is being quarantined throughout the week while officials determine if it poses a public safety risk.

He said investigators are still interviewing witnesses to develop a timeline of events to determine what motivated the attack before concluding whether any laws may have been broken by the owner of the dogs.

Anderson said he has not seen a fatal dog mauling incident in his six years with the county, and there has not been a significant rabies case in the county in at least 15 years.

Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said Monday his office is anticipating the Animal Services’ report. Despite the owner of the dogs being a local police officer, Cunningham said local prosecutors would likely handle any resulting criminal case — if any charges are filed — because the state Attorney General’s Office has found that the mere fact that a case involves a local police officer does not necessarily create a conflict of interest for the local District Attorney’s Office.

In California, a person who owns or has custody or control of a “mischievous animal” that kills someone who has taken reasonable precautions is guilty of a felony if he or she knows the animal presented a safety risk to others and “willfully suffers it to go at large or keeps it without ordinary care.” Serious bodily injury in the same situation can result in a misdemeanor or a felony charge, depending on the facts of the case.

In 2008, a judge sentenced a San Francisco woman to 15 years to life in prison for her dogs’ fatal 2001 attack on a neighbor in which they mauled the woman for at least 10 minutes. A judge found the dog owner did not take proper precautions to muzzle her aggressive 140-pound Presa Canario, according to sfgate.com. The ruling was appealed and later upheld in February.

Fear’s family could not be reached Monday, but friends have created a GoFundMe webpage to raise money for funeral and other expenses.

“Dave died trying to help save his elderly neighbor (85) from a vicious dog attack while walking her small dog. He is our HERO and one of the most selfless men we have ever met,” read a statement by authors identified as Michele and Keith Forrest. According to the page, Keith Forrest had been Fear’s closest friend for 50 years. “He was also a true animal lover in every sense of the word.”

As of Monday evening, donors had pledged $5,235 of a $10,000 goal.