Crime

Before deadly Grover Beach attack, dog chased mailman and was a ‘problem’

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

A police-trained dog that mauled two Grover Beach residents, killing one, had escaped its enclosure earlier in the day and chased a mailman, while a group of neighbors were trying to confront the animal’s police officer owner about its behavior, reports show.

Police and County Animal Services reports contained in a court filing reveal details surrounding the Dec. 13 attack that killed 64-year-old David Fear and seriously injured 85-year-old Betty Long.

Alex Geiger, who worked for the Grover Beach Police Department for about four months before resigning in February, is facing two felony counts of failing to maintain control of a deadly or dangerous animal and a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Geiger, 25, has pleaded not guilty. If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of about four years in state prison.

In a court filing seeking dismissal of the manslaughter charge, Geiger’s attorney, Visalia-based John Jackson, included reports from police officers and County Animal Control officers who interviewed Geiger, Long, and a host of neighbors and witnesses.

Their interviews reveal a neighborhood increasingly troubled by Geiger’s two dogs. The police-trained Belgian Malinois named Neo was determined to be the aggressor and was euthanized the day of the attack. A German shepherd named Rolo was not found to have attacked Long and Fear, and is currently living with a private owner outside the county.

Though officials did not disclose Geiger’s identity or Neo’s background for weeks following the attack, records obtained by The Tribune showed it was Geiger’s former K9 partner in the city of Exeter in Tulare County and had been trained by Geiger before being purchased as his private pet when he moved to Grover Beach. While there, he unsuccessfully lobbied Police Chief John Peters to create a K9 unit.

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, Long recounted that she was walking her small dog outside her home in the 1100 block of Nacimiento Avenue when Fear, her next door neighbor, greeted them outside. Long said Geiger’s dogs appeared out of nowhere and attacked her and Fear. Her small dog ran off and was not hurt.

According to his report, Grover Beach police Sgt. Juan Leon was the first on scene and found Long and Fear lying on the sidewalk with severe injuries. When he exited his patrol car with his shotgun, Neo — who was covered in blood — approached the officer calmly, rubbed his muzzle on Leon’s leg and sat down. The German shepherd, which had no blood on it, wandered off.

Leon reported that Fear told the officer to help Long before him, and paramedics arrived shortly afterward.

Geiger, who was on duty at the time, arrived and secured both dogs in his home a block away.

Animal Services Director Eric Anderson wrote in his report that Geiger’s wood and lattice fence had two splintered planks broken at the ground level, and large, muddy paw prints visible on the fence. Inside the backyard was an empty 8-foot-by-6-foot metal wire kennel.

According to his report, a neighbor told Anderson he had seen the two dogs dart out of the property earlier that day and chase a mailman. The mailman told Anderson that he was conducting his normal rounds in his truck around noon when both dogs began to chase him, barking aggressively.

“One of the dogs seemed particularly aggressive and was jumping on his truck as if trying to get at him,” Anderson wrote. He rolled up his windows and continued on his way, and the dogs ended their chase, the report says.

Nearly a week after the incident, Anderson interviewed Geiger, who said he received a message from his roommate the morning of Dec. 13 that one of the boards in the fence had come loose. He went home and reinserted a 3-inch-wide plank, but the rest appeared secure, he said.

Geiger told Anderson that he would normally leave Neo in the kennel or loose in his backyard while he was at work: “Generally, the times when Neo was kenneled were only those occasions when he was going out of town for an extended period of time (a few days or more),” Anderson wrote.

Brett Inglehart, K9 coordinator for the Exeter Police Department, told Anderson that Neo “performed and trained well” and that his “behavior was consistent with the general expectations of a working dog of his breed.”

However, Inglehart said that in Exeter, Geiger was taught that K9s “are to be maintained in a locked crate or kennel ... unless under the direct supervision of their handler.”

“Geiger was aware of this policy and would have been expected to comply with it while working as a K9 officer,” Anderson wrote.

Lastly, Anderson interviewed seven neighbors and a landscaper. One neighbor said she was unaware of any problems, but the rest reported that since Geiger moved in, they were hounded by prolonged barking day and night, with the dogs left outside while Geiger seemed to be gone for up to three days at a time.

A next-door neighbor reported that the dogs “were a problem,” “going crazy, jumping on the fence in an out-of-control manner,” and “seemed to go nuts” every time he went in his backyard.

That neighbor had spoken to others about confronting Geiger, but they were unable to reach him prior to the attack.

Geiger is due in court Tuesday for a daylong preliminary hearing.

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