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Grover Beach, former police officer challenge $500,000 settlement in fatal dog mauling

Former Grover Beach police officer Alex Geiger performs K-9 training exercises in a bite-proof suit with a dog in Hanford in 2013.
Former Grover Beach police officer Alex Geiger performs K-9 training exercises in a bite-proof suit with a dog in Hanford in 2013.

The owners of a home rented by an ex-Grover Beach police officer whose two dogs escaped their enclosure and attacked two neighbors, killing one of them, have reached a tentative $500,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed by the deceased neighbor’s family and the surviving victim.

But the city of Grover Beach, which at the time of the 2016 attack employed officer Alex Geiger, as well as Geiger and the city that trained the more aggressive dog as a police K-9, oppose that settlement, arguing the homeowners’ insurance hasn’t provided enough information to determine whether the agreement was made in good faith.

On Dec. 13, 2016, Geiger’s police-trained Belgian Malinois, Neo, and another less aggressive dog broke through a wooden fence while Geiger was at work and attacked 85-year-old Betty Long and 64-year-old David Fear, who came to Long’s aid. Fear died three days later from complications of his severe injuries.

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Betty Long, the 86-year-old Grover Beach woman who survived a fatal attack by two dogs owned by former Grover Beach police officer Alex Geiger, returned home this week following shoulder replacement surgery. The December 13, 2016, attack killed Lo

Neo was euthanized that afternoon; a second dog owned by Geiger was determined not to have attacked the neighbors.

Jacqueline Frederick, a Nipomo attorney representing Long, said Thursday the various defendants’ opposition is more or less routine, and she expects Judge Barry LaBarbera to approve settlement from Christopher and Monica Belavic’s insurance provider.

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David Fear, shown with longtime partner Terry Lopez, died three days after a Dec. 13, 2016, dog mauling in Grover Beach. Diana Smaw

The $500,000 settlement is the maximum amount covered by the Belavics’ homeowners insurance policy in the wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit.

Specifically, the defendants in the lawsuit allege that the Belavics’ insurance has not provided evidence of the policy limits, information about how the money will be disbursed between the plaintiffs, and information about the Belavics’ financial condition.

According to a tentative ruling written by LaBarbera, the settlement is to be divided into three parts: a third will go to the Fears, a third to Long and her family, and the final third will go to cover shared costs.

LaBarbera is scheduled to rule on the settlement Aug. 16.

Corey Smaw remembers his uncle, David Fear, as "the nicest guy ever." Fear died Dec. 16, 2016, three days after he aided a woman who was being attacked by two dogs in Grover Beach. The dogs, owned by a Grover Beach police officer, turned on Fear a

The lawsuit filed by Long, her family, and Fear’s family against Geiger, Grover Beach, the city of Exeter, and an Exeter officer who trained the dog, is still in the early stages of discovery, according to attorneys involved in the case.

Meanwhile, the city of Grover Beach has filed a cross complaint for financial relief from the other defendants, the city of Exeter has filed a cross-complaint for damages against Geiger and the Belavics, and Geiger has filed a cross-complaint against his former landlords and Grover Beach.

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Alex Geiger, the 25-year-old former Grover Beach police officer whose dog attacked Grover Beach residents Betty Long and David Fear, killing Fear, appears in court in February. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Clayton Hall, a San Luis Obispo attorney representing Grover Beach, said he plans to file a motion in the coming months to dismiss the city from the lawsuit, saying the city had no ownership or control over the two dogs.

Hall said Police Chief John Peters will be deposed in the lawsuit, where he’s expected to testify that the department had nothing to do with the dogs.

“The dog clearly wasn’t owned or maintained by us,” Hall said Thursday. “Grover Beach does not have a K-9 unit.”

Following the attack, Geiger, 25, resigned from the Grover Beach Police Department in February 2017. Despite the city’s initial silence, it was slowly revealed through media reports that Neo had been trained as a police dog, was Geiger’s former partner, had bitten a trainer, and was purchased by Geiger as a personal pet.

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Public records requests also revealed that Geiger had lobbied Peters to create a K-9 unit in the department.

Meanwhile, Geiger, who now lives in Visalia, faces two felony charges of failing to maintain control over a dangerous animal resulting in injury or death and one felony count of manslaughter. If convicted, he faces nearly four years in state prison.

The criminal case against Geiger is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 13.

Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1
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