Attorney General's office will not take over dog attack case



The California Attorney General's Office will not step in to prosecute the criminal case against a former Grover Beach police officer whose dog killed one person and injured another in a 2016 attack.

A SLO County Superior Court Judge denied a motion to recuse the SLO County District Attorney's Office from the case and ask the Attorney General's office to take over prosecuting Alex Geiger. Geiger's defense attorney made the motion after claiming the SLO DA's office had intentionally interfered with her efforts to defend her client.

Geiger was charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and failing to maintain control over a dangerous animal after Neo, a police-trained Belgian malinois he privately owned, escaped from his Grover home and mauled 85-year-old Betty Long in December 2016. The dog injured Long and killed her neighbor, David Fear, when Fear attempted to stop the attack.

Defense attorney Melina Benninghoff filed the motion to recuse the SLO DA's Office from Geiger's case in November 2018. Benninghoff claimed the office intentionally tried to obstruct Geiger's defense by interfering with her investigator's attempts to interview some police officers who were witnesses in the case and, in another instance, improperly trying to impose conditions on other witness interviews. The DA's Office denied that it intentionally meddled with the case, but later sent a memo to law enforcement agencies clarifying policies on interviews with defense attorneys and their investigators.

The judge's ruling to deny Benninghoff's motion occurred at a Dec. 21 hearing that featured testimony from Grover Beach police officers, including Grover Beach Police Chief John Peters. Prior to the hearing, the California Attorney General's Office filed court documents stating that it also opposed Benningoff's motion to get them to take over the case.

"Defendant Geiger has not identified and demonstrated a conflict of interest showing either the assigned prosecutor specifically, or the [SLO County DA's Office] have not exercised ... discretionary functions in an evenhanded manner," the motion states.

According to court records, Benninghoff indicated that she plans to file another motion asking the court to dismiss the case against Geiger entirely at a later date. Geiger, who is also facing a civil lawsuit in connection with attack, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him. A trial for his criminal case is tentatively scheduled for March 4. Δ

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