Alex Geiger, 27, Faced Three Felony Counts After Vicious Attacks
From left, the victim David Fear, and former officer Alex Geiger in court proceeding.
The criminal trial has ended for former police officer Alex Geiger. In 2016, his "retired" attack-trained k-9 killed a man and injured a woman. Please see the complete timeline of events.
Acquitted on All Charges
On Friday, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all three counts after a former officer's "retired" attack-trained police K-9 chewed through its owner's wooden fence and attacked two people, killing one. The felony charges against Alex Geiger were straightforward and prosecution presented sufficient evidence to prove each one. Geiger was charged with two counts of failing to maintain control of a dangerous animal and one felony count of involuntary manslaughter.
Due to this verdict, a "retired" police K-9 can now breakout of its property and savagely attack an innocent person without criminal culpability.
Geiger was fully aware of the propensities of his retired police K-9, named Neo, a dog dual-certified in detection and patrol work -- including obedience, search, apprehension and handler protection (bite work). 3.5 months before his dog killed David Fear, Geiger purchased K-9 Neo from the city of Exeter and signed a waiver freeing the city of any liability if the dog ever attacked under Geiger's "private" ownership. Thus, acknowledging the inherent dangerousness of K-9 Neo.
Also, 3.5 months before the dog broke through Geiger's fence and killed David Fear, Geiger began renting a house on Owen's Court, one block from the location of the deadly mauling. Prosecution presented evidence to jurors that upon renting the home, Geiger stated on the application for housing pets that Neo "will hopefully be a police dog again in the future." Just one month before the dog killed David Fear, Geiger was busy lobbying for a police K-9 program in Grover Beach.
On November 10, Geiger presented the police chief with a 140-page guide explaining how to form a K-9 unit in a small police department.
Neo was only 2.5 years old. This K-9 was not "retired" -- it was merely "between bites." On December 13, Geiger left Neo loose in his fenced backyard instead of securing the dog in the 5-sided kennel in his backyard, as K-9 policy teaches. Geiger returned home that morning and temporarily fixed a hole in his fence. By noon, Neo had chewed through the "fix" and menaced a mailman. By 1:15 pm, still loose in the neighborhood, Neo attacked David Fear and Betty Long.1
Geiger clearly failed to keep his attack-trained police K-9 "without ordinary care" (§ 399) -- the ordinary care required to secure a non-ordinary dog, one trained in apprehension and bite work. Geiger's actions were clearly "without due caution and circumspection," as well (Penal Code 192b). As dog bite attorney Ken Phillips states, pertaining to this verdict, "These are not ordinary dogs, not ordinary pets, and yet there are no standards for keeping them in our communities."
"The worst part about this "not guilty" verdict is the "get out of jail free" message. The defense was largely based on the absence of standard guidelines that would dictate how to protect the public from police dogs that are out of training. The defense used that argument to its advantage to get this particular defendant found not guilty, but the long term effect of the jury's decision will create the missing guideline. Freedom from criminal responsibility means less of a need to be vigilant. The guideline will admit more casual confinement of these dogs. Public safety will suffer." - Dog Bite Attorney Kenneth Phillips, DogBiteLaw.com
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said he was disappointed with the result but was thankful to the jury for hearing the case. "The facts of this case are tragic for all involved and the incident has greatly affected the families of the victims, Mr. David Fear and Ms. Betty Long. Our staff at the Christopher G. Money Victim Witness Assistance Center will continue to provide available support to the victim’s families going forward," Dow said in a statement to KEYT.
A jury fully acquitted ex-@Grover_BeachPD officer for deadly K9 attack. Outside courtroom, a juror was heard telling defense that alleged victims’ families’ civil suit played a role in verdict. @SLOTribune https://t.co/GVkTTllNoV
— Matt Fountain (@MattFountain1) April 12, 2019
04/12/19: Closing Arguments
Closing arguments were heard Thursday in the criminal trial of former Grover Beach police officer Alex Geiger. In December 2016, his "retired" attack-trained police K-9, "Neo," escaped his property and attacked two people, killing one. Geiger faces three felony counts. Prosecutor Steve Wagner argued that Geiger was negligent in securing his backyard fencing and that Geiger knew the risks and liability of having a retired K-9 and was indifferent to the potential consequences.
The defense replayed videos of Neo playing with Geiger's other dog, a German shepherd. The defense strategy is to show that despite the dog's apprehension and bite work training, Neo was a "playful puppy" at home. Thus, Geiger had no way to foresee the brutal attack that left David Fear dead and Betty Long badly injured. During the trial, defense has also suggested that Neo attacked Fear because perhaps Fear held up a BB gun or garden tool, triggering the dog's attack training.
Another strategy advanced by the defense is that there is no uniform standard dictating how to house retired K-9s. "There's really not an industry standard. It's really what a particular city or jurisdiction wants," testified Ron Cloward, an expert witness for the defense. Cloward is testifying "free-of-charge" because he personally does not believe Geiger is guilty of a crime. A conviction, he believes, could have a chilling effect on police agencies using K-9s -- Cloward's line of work.
Overdue Wake Up Call
A retired attack-trained police K-9 means the canine is no longer active duty. Thus, a possible "chilling effect" on police K-9 agencies is doubtful. The way the police industry handles these dogs currently, at least in the instant case of Geiger, is through liability waivers. In August 2016, Geiger had to sign a waiver with the city of Exeter when he purchased Neo for $5,287, removing the city of any liability if the canine ever attacked someone while under Geiger's "private" ownership.
Developing safer policies is not a "chilling effect." They are a natural evolution in law enforcement and nearly all workplace environments.
The criminal trial of Geiger is a long overdue "wake up call" for the police industry. Officers with dogs trained in apprehension and bite work -- both active duty and retired -- are well aware of the capabilities of these dogs. As Judge Mullin stated during the preliminary hearing, "There is an inherent danger" with keeping retired police dogs. Mullin also stated that due to the absence of "standard procedures" for retired K-9s, maybe police agencies should do something about it.
03/30/19: Prosecution Rests
On Thursday, prosecution rested its case against former Grover Beach police officer Alex Geiger. In February 2017, Geiger was charged with multiple felony counts after his "retired" attack-trained police K-9, which he kept as a personal "pet" after leaving the Exeter K-9 unit four months earlier, killed 64-year old David Fear and seriously injured Betty Long, then 85. There have been few media updates since the trial began, possibly due to electronics being restricted in the courtroom.
After prosecution rested, Geiger's attorney, Melina S. Benninghoff, quickly filed a motion to dismiss the case citing "lack of evidence" during the trial. The motion to dismiss was denied by San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Duffy. After a recess, Geiger took the stand and answered questions about his retired K-9's training and post active-duty behavior. Defense is trying to weave a narrative that Geiger had no instructions about how to keep his retired K-9.
On March 22, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported that defense pointed to the confusion over which agency was in charge of the investigation -- Grover Beach Police or San Luis Obispo County Animal Services? Director of Animal Services, Eric Anderson, said that after arriving on scene, his agency worked in a "support" role for police. While on the scene, Police Chief John Peters asked Anderson if his agency could take over because Geiger was a city employee.
Anderson, however, did not start conducting an investigation until two days after the attack. When questioned by defense under cross-examination, Anderson testified, "My assessment was we would assume responsibility once (Grover Beach police) gave us their reports. It seemed to be understood that Grover Beach had collected a lot of information at that point." Defense hopes to use this confusion to call into question evidence that was or was not collected at the scene.
At that same time, jurors also heard testimony from witness and survivor Betty Long and two San Luis ambulance paramedics, who were early arrivals at the scene. One of the paramedics, Nicolas Drake, testified about treating Fear. His arms were "mauled or destroyed" with much of his skin removed between the wrists and elbows, reports The Tribune. "It was the most horrific injury I've seen," Drake said. Among other atrocities, Neo severed the radial artery in one of Fear's arms.
The criminal trial of Alex Geiger is scheduled to resume April 8 after a one-week break. Geiger's testimony will resume at that time and cross-examination by the prosecution will take place.
03/12/19: Opening Arguments
Drama unleashed in opening statements Tuesday, including the defense attorney brandishing a BB gun in front of the jury. Defense strategy appears to be "this was an accident" and the case is only a civil lawsuit matter. Prosecutor Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner stated that "safety was a distant second" in Geiger's mind, who knew or should have known that his attack-trained police K-9 was dangerous. Former officer Alex Geiger faces up to four years in jail if convicted.
Wagner said he would show jurors Geiger’s property management company’s application for housing pets on which Geiger reportedly wrote that Neo "will hopefully be a police dog again in the future." - San Luis Obispo Tribune
Geiger's 2.5-year old Belgian malinios, Neo, was not "retired" in any traditional sense. "Alex Geiger had plans to engage Neo in active service at the Grover Beach Police Department," Wagner said during opening statements. "That becomes an important issue as it relates to the case of Neo." An hour before chewing through a wooden fence and killing David Fear and seriously injuring Betty Long, Geiger's dogs had chased a mailman, who is scheduled to testify.
Wagner also took aim at the Grover Beach Police Department, alleging that officers "did not actively engage in evidence collection" after the attack. A BB gun and long-sticked garden tool were found near the scene of the attack. Wagner said a district attorney's office investigator had both items tested at a forensics lab; there was no evidence that either were used in the incident. This is the same BB gun defense argues perhaps Fear pointed at the dogs, triggering the attack.
During the trial, jurors are expected to see Geiger's body cam footage of his arrival at the scene of the deadly dog attack as well as hearing the 911 call made by Betty Long. In another revelation of what is yet to come in the trial, the prosecution accused Geiger's brother of talking to one of the jurors during a break Tuesday, reports KSBY. Both Geiger's brother and the juror were questioned in a closed session. The judge had to "remind" everyone not to talk to jurors to ensure a fair trial.
Criminal Trial Begins
San Luis Obispo County, CA - Opening arguments begin Tuesday in the criminal trial of former Grover Beach police officer Alex Geiger. On December 13, 2016, Geiger's "retired" attack-trained police K-9, which he kept as a personal "pet" after leaving the Exeter K-9 unit four months earlier, chewed through a fence and mauled two people, killing one. Geiger faces two felony counts for failing to maintain control of a dangerous dog and one felony count of involuntary manslaughter.
The criminal trial comes nearly two years after a preliminary hearing was held in July 2017, when we last published about this case. Superior Court Judge Hugh Mullin III ruled there was enough evidence for Geiger to stand trial. David Fear, 64, died from complications of blood loss due to his bite injuries three days after the vicious attack. Betty Long, then 85, suffered bite injuries and broken bones from falling. She was not released from a rehabilitation center until March 2017.
In August 2016, Geiger had to sign a waiver with the city of Exeter when he purchased this dog, removing the city of any liability if it ever attacked someone under his "private" ownership. Geiger's police-trained K-9, "Neo," was not retired in the traditional sense. Neo was only 2.5 years old. A month before the fatal attack, Geiger had unsuccessfully lobbied Grover Breach to start a K-9 program. Four months earlier, Neo had been active duty with Geiger in the Exeter K-9 unit.
The preliminary hearing, along with Judge Mullin's ruling, focused on "retired" police dogs and the absence of "standard procedures" to follow for officers and other owners of these dogs. Mullin stated, "Maybe police departments should do something about it." Mullin also stated, "There is an inherent danger (with keeping retired police dogs) and I think Officer Geiger knew that." Just an hour before the fatal attack, Neo chewed through its wooden fence and chased a mailman.
The preliminary hearing also revealed the questionable investigation by the Grover Beach Police Department after the deadly mauling. Geiger was on duty at the time and arrived on scene shortly after the first officer. There were numerous protocol violations, including, but not limited to: failure to closely inspect Geiger's broken fence, failure to collect and preserve certain evidence, turning off a body cam too early, and euthanizing and cremating the dog without a body examination.
Prior to the attack, the K-9 was not locked in Geiger's 5-sided kennel in the backyard, as K-9 policy teaches, but left loose in a fenced backyard.
We expect that defense will use the shoddy investigation by Geiger's "employer" to help bolster their client's Not Guilty plea. However, what was clearly established during the preliminary hearing is that Geiger had knowledge of his dog's vicious propensities and he failed to properly secure it. On the day of the fatal attack, Geiger placed both Neo and his German shepherd in his fenced backyard, where he also had a 5-sided kennel. He did not secure either dog inside the kennel.
On December 13, Geiger's Belgian malinios, Neo, a dual-certified police K-9 in detection and patrol work (bite work), escaped his property and attacked Betty Long and her neighbor David Fear who intervened to save her life. Fear suffered life-threatening injuries, including two arteries in his arms being severed. He died three days later while hospitalized. Long suffered serious bite injuries and broken bones from falling. Long was released from a rehabilitation center in March.
In September, Geiger was hired by Grover Beach, which has no K-9 unit. For weeks after the attack, the city would not release the officer's name or details about the dog's training. An expose by The Tribune, detailing Geiger's previous employment, showed that Neo was a dual-certified police K-9 and that a month after Geiger began working for the city -- and a month before his dog attacked Fear and Long -- Geiger unsuccessfully lobbied for a K-9 program in Grover Beach.
Prior to joining the city of Grover Beach, Geiger had worked at the Exeter Police Department in Tulare County with the last year spent as a K-9 patrol officer with Neo. Six months before Geiger moved to Grover Beach -- taking the dog with him as a "pet" -- Neo had bitten a trainer during a "bite suite exercise." The K-9 was not taken out of service afterward. When Geiger purchased the dog from Exeter for $5,287 in August, he signed a waiver relieving Exeter of any future liability.
07/21/17: Preliminary Hearing of Former Officer Whose 'Personal' Dual-Certified K-9 Killed...
06/12/17: 2016 Dog Bite Fatality: Former Officer Charged with Felonies After his 'Personal'...
Related website page:
Police K-9 Dog Bite Studies - A Collection of Studies Gathered by DogsBite.org