Grover police withhold owner’s name in fatal dog attack, as victims’ families seek answers

Family members of two Grover Beach residents attacked by dogs on Dec. 13 are continuing their search for information about the incident that left an elderly woman seriously injured and killed the neighbor who tried to rescue her.

Police are refusing to release the name of the Grover Beach police officer who owns the two dogs involved in the attack, although the families of David Fear, 64, and his neighbor, Betty Long, 85, are seeking the man’s identity as they assess their legal options. Authorities have said the dogs — a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois and a German shepherd — were the officer’s pets and not police dogs.

Grover Beach police Chief John Peters said Tuesday that the agency would not release the officer’s name because his identity is part of a personnel record protected by the California Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act. The officer has been placed on administrative leave.

Grover Beach police officers and Five Cities Fire officials responded to the emergency call that afternoon, as well as county Animal Services officers. Peters said he also would not release his department’s incident report because an investigation is ongoing.

San Luis Obispo County Animal Services is the lead agency and is conducting the investigation. Animal Services manager Eric Anderson also has refused to release the owner’s name because he hasn’t been arrested or charged with any crime.

Fear’s daughter, Sarah Fear, said her family intends to pursue legal action “200 percent.” She said she and other members of the family went to the Grover Beach Police Department seeking information, but were told to contact Animal Services.

Lori Chevoya, Long’s daughter, also said Tuesday that she intends to talk with a lawyer.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael, said the officer’s role as a dog owner is separate from his role on the police force. There’s no reason the officer’s personnel file should factor into disclosure decisions, he said.

“It’s not personnel file information,” Scheer said.

The decision about which information to release and which to withhold from the public during an investigation is discretionary and not a matter of law, Scheer said. The decision usually is based on whether releasing that information would hinder the investigation or endanger the person named, he said.

Once the incident reports are released, the dog owner’s name would become public record as a witness, even if he isn’t arrested or charged, Scheer said.

The afternoon attack occurred on the 1100 block of Nacimiento Avenue, where authorities found Fear and Long gravely injured and the two dogs running in the area.

The Belgian Malinois was identified as the more aggressive dog and was euthanized with the owner’s permission. The German shepherd remains under quarantine pending the results of the investigation.

Neighbors and family members said Long was outside her home with a small dog when the Belgian Malinois and German shepherd attacked her. When Fear came to help her, the two dogs turned on him.

Fear died as a result of his injuries on Friday night at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. Sarah Fear said on Tuesday the dogs tore through arteries in her father’s arms, causing severe blood loss and, eventually, organ failure. He remained on life support until Friday night, she said.

The family is now going about the somber task of planning a memorial sometime after the holiday season, said Corey Smaw, the nephew of Fear’s longtime partner, Terry Lopez.

Sarah Fear said her father had planned to walk her down the aisle at her upcoming wedding, a moment that’s now no longer possible.

“It was just a completely disgusting, irresponsible act,” she said.

Chevoya said her mother is convalescing at a rehabilitation center in San Luis Obispo. Long’s pelvis and shoulder were broken during the attack and will require four to six weeks of treatment, Chevoya said.

“Everybody’s still in awe,” she said.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

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