San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow’s comments on social media about a former Grover Beach police officer’s involuntary manslaughter case don’t amount to “bias and prejudice” and don’t merit throwing the DA’s Office off the case, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy rejected a motion Tuesday morning by Alex Geiger to remove the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office from his felony case based on what Geiger characterized as “outrageous” statements Dow made about the case to The Tribune and on Facebook.
A second motion by Geiger challenging the charges against him, however, won’t be ruled on until Friday, days before he’s scheduled to stand trial.
Geiger, 25, 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.
(Geiger) was soaking in knowledge and awareness of risk of the numerous dangers imposed by not adequately securing Neo.
San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner
Geiger resigned from the Grover Beach Police Department in February, roughly two months after his Belgian Malinois named Neo got loose while Geiger was at work and attacked 85-year-old neighbor 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.
Neo was euthanized that afternoon; a second dog owned by Geiger was determined not to have attacked the neighbors.
In the aftermath of the attack, it was slowly revealed Geiger had been with the department for about three months, after leaving the police department in Exeter where he was a K-9 officer and had trained Neo as his partner. When he arrived in Grover Beach, Geiger unsuccessfully lobbied Police Chief John Peters to start a K-9 unit.
In testimony presented in court in July, investigators testified that Gieger’s dogs had been a menacing presence in the neighborhood and had gotten out earlier on the day of the fatal attack and chased a mail carrier.
The DA’s Office initially charged Geiger with two counts of failing to maintain the dangerous animals. In response to angry residents who alleged Geiger should face manslaughter, Dow defended his office’s charges on social media, saying there wasn’t evidence at the time to support a manslaughter charge.
However, after a new deputy district attorney was assigned to the case, the prosecutor added the manslaughter charge in June. Dow told The Tribune at the time that adding the charge gave prosecutors more options to prosecute the case, even though it would not add to Geiger’s sentence if he were convicted on all three charges.
In order to prove the charges of failing to maintain control over a dangerous animal, Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner must prove simple negligence and that Geiger had knowledge of his dog’s propensity for violence. For involuntary manslaughter, he has to prove gross negligence, a higher standard, but not that Geiger was aware the dog was dangerous.
After hearing testimony, Duffy found enough probable cause in July to order Geiger to stand trial on all three charges.
In his motion, Geiger alleged that Dow “demonstrated his lack of veracity and his inability to be impartial” when his office filed the manslaughter charge months after Dow wrote on Facebook that “there is no evidence to support” the charge.
Both the DA’s Office and California Attorney General’s Office opposed the motion, with the state arguing that Dow’s comments to the media or constituents do not amount to bias, nor would they bias every prosecutor in his office. The DA’s Office’s opposition focused on the legitimacy of the charges.
“(Geiger) was soaking in knowledge and awareness of risk of the numerous dangers imposed by not adequately securing Neo,” Deputy DA Wagner wrote. “But for the defendant’s acts and omissions, the horrific mauling and attacks would not have occurred.”
Duffy will rule on Geiger’s second motion Friday and, if she denies it, jury selection for Geiger’s trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 17. He also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Fear and Long’s families, which is ongoing.