Former Grover Beach officer charged with felonies in deadly dog attack

Alex Geiger performs K-9 training exercises in a bite-proof suit with a dog in Hanford in 2013. Geiger worked as a Grover Beach police officer in December when his personal dog — his former partner at a previous department — attacked two neighbors, killing one of them.
Alex Geiger performs K-9 training exercises in a bite-proof suit with a dog in Hanford in 2013. Geiger worked as a Grover Beach police officer in December when his personal dog — his former partner at a previous department — attacked two neighbors, killing one of them.

A former Grover Beach police officer could face about four years in prison after prosecutors filed two felony charges Thursday, seven weeks after his personal police-trained dog attacked two neighbors, killing one of them.

Alex Geiger, who was hired as an officer with the Grover Beach Police Department in September, was charged with two counts of failing to maintain control of a dangerous animal, according to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney Dan Dow said the criminal complaint alleges Geiger had “custody and control of a dangerous animal,” that “he knew that the animal was dangerous” and that Geiger “failed to use ordinary care in keeping the animal.”

An arrest warrant has been requested for Geiger, and a court hearing will be scheduled after he is booked into County Jail. If convicted, Geiger faces a maximum of three years and eight months in prison.

Geiger resigned from the police department Wednesday, Grover Beach City Manager Matthew Bronson said in a statement Thursday.

“The city continues to express its condolences to the family of Mr. Fear and wishes Ms. Betty Long a speedy recovery,” Bronson’s statement reads, referring to the woman injured in the attack and her neighbor, David Fear.

On Dec. 13, Geiger’s dog — a 2  1/2 -year-old Belgian Malinois named Neo — got loose and attacked 85-year-old Long as she walked her dog on the 1100 block of Nacimiento Avenue in Grover Beach. Fear came to Long’s aid and also was attacked. Fear, 64, died of his injuries three days later.

Close to 100 friends, family members and neighbors attended a memorial vigil in Grover Beach for David Fear on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. Fear, 67, of Grover Beach died Dec.16 after trying to rescue his neighbor during a dog attack.

Neo was euthanized the afternoon of the attack. A second dog, a German shepherd also owned by Geiger, was determined not to have been an aggressor in the attack.

A Tribune investigation found that Geiger was hired by the city of Grover Beach following a year as a provisional deputy with the Kings County Sheriff’s Office and a two-year stint at the Exeter Police Department in Tulare County, where he served first as a provisional officer and later as a K-9 officer. While in Exeter, Geiger trained and conducted patrol operations with Neo for about a year before taking the job in Grover Beach.

Records obtained by The Tribune show that Neo once bit a trainer during an exercise, but the bite was not serious enough to take the dog out of service. Exeter officials have declined to comment on the dog’s training or service.

Geiger purchased the dog from Exeter for about $5,300 and signed a waiver of liability, protecting that city in case of injury caused by the fully trained police dog, Matthew Pierce, Exeter’s deputy city attorney, previously told The Tribune.

A month after Geiger was hired in Grover Beach, he lobbied police Chief John Peters to start a K-9 unit. Peters previously said a K-9 unit was one of several things the department was exploring at the time, but he noted that it was never approved and that the department had “no interest” in Neo as a K-9 officer.

The District Attorney’s Office said the Dec. 13 attack is the first known case within San Luis Obispo County where a dog mauling has led to death. However, since 2003, the office has filed five cases involving dog maulings that caused serious bodily injury, resulting in five misdemeanor convictions, the District Attorney’s Office said.

Dow said his office’s investigation of the Dec. 13 attack did not find evidence against Geiger of criminal negligence, which would be required for a charge of manslaughter. Manslaughter “involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention or mistake in judgment,” Dow said.

Jack Denove, a Los Angeles attorney who represents Fear’s family, said his clients feel the criminal charges that have been filed are “appropriate.”

Denove said he plans to file a claim next week against the city of Exeter, which will have 45 days to accept or reject it. If they reject the claim, the Fear family plans to file a civil lawsuit.

He said his clients’ case is in the early stages, but he said he believes the city of Exeter is liable for damages regardless of the waiver signed by Geiger and the city’s K-9 supervisor.

Denove said the incident has exposed a bigger policy question of what should become of trained police dogs once they are no longer in service.

“If it’s unable to perform the duties of a police dog, what is the dog’s purpose out in the community?” he said. “I don’t know what the solution is, but I know what the result was in this case.”

Jacqueline Frederick, a Nipomo attorney representing Long, said she also plans to file a claim against Exeter, which she said made the “extremely reckless decision” to sell the dog to Geiger.

Frederick said Long is recovering from shoulder replacement surgery in a care facility and is maintaining a positive attitude.

“She’s a trooper,” Frederick said.

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

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1