The ex-wife of a Glendale police sergeant described in emotional testimony this week the day his police dog mauled their 2-year-old daughter, puncturing and fracturing the child’s skull, shattering her nose and repeatedly biting the toddler’s legs and buttocks as she tried to carry her to safety.
The testimony came during the second week of a Glendale Superior Court civil trial in which the parents, Sgt. Ricardo L. Jauregui and Roberta C. Jauregui, are seeking at least $1 million in damages from the city of Glendale.
“I thought I was going to lose her,” a weeping Roberta Jauregui told jurors Tuesday afternoon. “She was my baby. She was so little and helpless . . . and I thought she was going to die.”
The couple’s daughter, Jennifer Jauregui, now 6, was brought into court briefly Tuesday so that jurors could view the scars on her face and legs from the 1984 attack by Zahn, the German shepherd assigned to her father.
The Jaureguis’ attorney, Robert L. Esensten, contends that the city is fully liable for the attack because the department did not research the history of the dog, 3 years old at the time of the attack, before it was donated to the city by a Whittier resident.
‘Lack of Socialization’
After the dog had been observed by experts, a former police chief reported in a 1981 memo that Zahn was “an extremely bright and aggressive animal, however, at times he displays a stubborn and unmanageable personality along with a definite lack of socialization as it relates to other dogs.”
Esensten contends that by accepting the dog without knowing anything of its background, the city did not know if it was violating its own police dog guidelines.
Those guidelines read in part: “Under no circumstances will a canine showing a predisposition toward indiscriminate biting, fear biting or hate biting be considered for police service.”
But the city’s attorney, E. Wallace Dingman, who has not yet presented his case in court, contends that it was Jauregui’s recklessness that allowed the attack to take place and not an overly aggressive dog.
The city of Glendale has filed its own suit against the Jaureguis.
“He should never have left the dog loose at home because the dog had nobody there to control it,” Dingman said outside of court. “If he takes his gun home and hands it to his 2-year-old daughter, he’s not very responsible. The city has a right to expect he would handle his dog like a gun.”
Dingman said his main witness will be an expert on dogs and dog training. He hopes to show the court that the dog is a “normal police dog that doesn’t do anything without stimulus.”
“I will show the dog is not out of control, but by the nature of a police dog, the danger is there,” Dingman said. “A police dog is trained differently than Fluffy the family dog.”
Witnesses called to the stand so far include a social worker from Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, who testified that Jennifer Jauregui suffers from nightmares and a fear of police dogs and that the scarring could affect her self-image and self-worth.
The most gripping testimony of the trial, however, was Roberta Jauregui’s account of the December, 1984, attack.
Jauregui testified that she and Jennifer went outside with Zahn to pick up leaves in the back yard. She said the dog was lying on the ground watching them. She testified that neither of them spoke to Zahn or touched him.
‘Let Out Low Growl’
“He started to get up,” Roberta Jauregui said. “He let out a low growl and headed out toward the edge of the patio. Next thing I know, I heard the dog growl and Jenny scream simultaneously. I turned around and Jenny’s head was in Zahn’s mouth.”
Jauregui said she used the word “out,” as she was instructed, to order the dog’s release of Jennifer. After using the command several times, Zahn let go of Jennifer but refused to let her near the child, she testified.
“I was terrified. I thought he was going to kill the baby,” Jauregui told the court. “She had wounds all over her head and she was bleeding a lot. She wasn’t moving . . . and he wasn’t going to let me have her.”
Jauregui said the dog bit her as she grabbed Jennifer and lifted her into her arms, trying to get her inside the house.
“The dog came after us and tried to drag her away from me,” she said. “He started grabbing her legs. . . . I kept trying to get the door. . . . The second time I got the door open again, he grabbed onto her buttocks and grabbed onto her legs and started pulling again.”
Jauregui said that throughout the attack she repeated the command, “Out!” and that the dog released Jennifer but would come after her every time she tried to enter the house.
‘Bleeding a Lot’
She testified that on her third try, the dog bit Jennifer’s leg but that she was able to pry its mouth off her and escape into the house.
“I could see her skull through the laceration on her forehead,” Jauregui testified, crying. “The laceration on her cheek was very bad. . . . She was just bleeding a lot and I was very frightened.”
The lawsuit is the second filed against the city of Glendale by Ricardo Jauregui.
In 1986, a federal court ruled that the Glendale Police Department had discriminated against Jauregui, a Latino, by passing him up for promotion to sergeant in favor of less qualified Anglo officers. The judge ordered Jauregui be promoted with back pay to February, 1985.
The city dropped further appeal of the decision after the ruling was upheld last July by a panel of U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal judges.