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Defense questions Geiger and K-9 trainer in deadly Grover Beach dog attack trial

Posted at 11:12 PM, Apr 08, 2019

Alex Geiger appeared in court Monday a week after opening statements.

The jury heard from Geiger and one of the defense’s witnesses Ronald Cloward— a retired Modesto law enforcement K-9 handler and current owner of Top Dog Police Training Consulting LL, a K-9 training facility in Modesto.

Ronald Cloward, Defense witness

Cloward took the stand first talking about his expertise in training police dogs though he did not train Geiger and Neo.

Cloward said he spent 28 years with Modesto Law Enforcement training and handling dogs. He retired as Lieutenant in 2011.

He also has taught in many other states, police academy and the International K-9 Conference since 1995.

He said the biggest part of dog training is problem-solving with the handler saying “it is harder to train the handler than the dog.”

Cloward said a handler and his or her dog must do at least 16 hours of training per month to meet the industry standards.

Cloward said there is no industry standard on how to retire a police dog.

He testified that many retired police dogs happily live with families, freely roaming about the backyard and house like his three retired K-9 dogs do saying his dogs play in the pool with his kids and neighborhood kids.

When asked about the nature of Belgian Malinois, Cloward said he doesn’t think they are malicious. He said trained K-9 dogs are not malicious and actually are trained to be social, but have trained aggression they use when they feel threatened.

Geiger’s attorney Melina Benninghoff posed a hypothetical scenario with similar house facts to the case. She gave Cloward a piece of evidence, a bb gun that looking like a real gun, and said it was found near the man who was attacked by the dog.

She then entered a picture of Neo with blood on his fur into evidence and asked Cloward if it seemed the dog had sustained a bb shot wound.

Benninghoff asked Cloward if the victim was holding a weapon or attempted to use it, if it was possible that a retired police dog would register that as a threat and attack. Cloward said under those circumstances it is reasonable.

Cloward explained further that certain K-9 training involves dogs learning to attack when they feel threatened (i.e. if guns or ammunition are present).

He compared police dogs to a light switch saying they turn on when they sense danger and turn off when they no longer sense danger.

The prosecution attorney Steve Wagner objected only two times during this testimony and chose not to cross examine this witness.

Geiger takes the stand again

Monday afternoon mainly involved Geiger’s attorney Melina Benninghoff asking Geiger questions about his day to day routine with Neo and going over evidence.

She presented pictures and videos of Neo playing with Geiger and other family dogs.

Geiger said he completed J Brock’s Narcotics K-9 training first and then completed basic training while he used Neo in the field for narcotics purposes.

He said he left Elexer Police Department because of the bad air quality in the area, but when he left the station he had two options: buy Neo or euthanized him. Geiger bought him with his vacation cash out and therefore was forced to retire Neo since the Grover Beach Police Department did not have a K-9 Unit.

Geiger said during the initial interview process, there was talks about creating a K-9 unit at Grover PD, but Geiger did not want Neo to be what he called a “show or PR dog” that made visits at schools.

When he moved to Grover Beach, Geiger said he knew a lad lived in the house to the right of him, but only saw people in the house on the other side of him Thanksgiving week of 2016.

He noticed his dogs Neo and Rolo barking that weekend, but said it was “nothing out of the normal” and said there were other dogs in the neighborhood that would bark.

Geiger says he was working a day shift December 13, 2016 and was on a traffic stop when he heard Five Cities Fire Authority get called for an animal control report in his neighborhood.

Geiger cleared his traffic stop and was got the okay to head to the animal control call since he was close by it.

He says when he got to the scene he saw Neo calmly sitting by another Grover Beach Police officer and then called him over. He was told to take Neo back inside immediately.

Benninghoff then showed pictures of broken wooden panels of Geiger’s backyard after Geiger broke it down with his foot to put Neo in his kennel after he escaped. Geiger said he had to break down a part of the fence because his personal keys to the padlocked gates and front door were at his work locker.

Geiger said prior to the December 13, 2016 attack, Neo showed no signs of aggressive behavior, not with his roommate, with Geiger’s other family pets or while on traffic stops.

What’s next 

Cross examination will continue Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.

We could hear closing arguments as early as Thursday morning.