Judge finds no wrongdoing by DA’s office in Grover Beach dog case

Kings County Deputy Sheriff Alex Geiger and “Boss” with a demonstration at Hidden Valley Park in Hanford, California in 2013.

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office faced allegations of meddling in the investigation being conducted by the defense in the Grover Beach dog attack case, but a judge cleared prosecutors of wrongdoing and denied a motion requesting the California Attorney General’s Office take over the case. [New Times]

On Dec. 12, 2016, two dogs belonging to then-Grover Beach police officer Alex Geiger chewed through a fence, broke loose and attacked a 64-year-old man and an 85-year-old woman. The man, David Fear, died shortly after the attack, while the elderly woman, Betty Long, survived with a broken pelvis and broken shoulder. 

The dog that was determined to be the more aggressive animal was a Belgian Malinois that had been trained as a K-9 and served in the Exeter Police Department with Geiger. Authorities euthanized the Belgian Malinois following the attack.

Geiger is facing charges of felony involuntary manslaughter and two felony counts of owning a dog trained to attack while failing to exercise ordinary care. He faces up to three years and eight months in prison if convicted of the offenses.

In Nov. 2018, Geiger’s attorney Melina Benninghoff filed a motion to recuse the DA’s office from the case. Benninghoff alleged the DA’s office interfered with her investigator’s attempts to interview police officers who were witnesses in the case. The defense attorney’s motion also alleged prosecutors improperly attempted to impose conditions on other witness interviews.

The DA’s office denied it intentionally meddled in the defense’s investigation. However, the DA’s office later sent a memo to law enforcement agencies clarifying policies on interviews with defense attorneys and their investigators.

Siding with SLO County prosecutors, the state attorney general’s office, too, opposed taking over the case from the DA’s office.

On Dec. 21, a San Luis Obispo judge denied the motion, ruling that Benninghoff did not prove the DA’s office had a conflict of interest or failed to act in an evenhanded manner. The judge issued the ruling following a hearing consisting of testimony from Grover Beach police officers, including Police Chief John Peters.

Geiger’s trial is tentatively scheduled for March 4. Benninghoff has indicated she will file a new motion asking the court to dismiss the case against Geiger.

In addition to the criminal case, Geiger is also faced with a lawsuit over the dog attack.