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Lawyer says ex-Gainesville police dog handler will be cleared
0916Vargas Diego
Then-Gainesville Police Officer Angel Vargas stands with Diego, a K-9 who was euthanized after Vargas left the force. Vargas’ training methods are being investigated. - photo by Times file photo

The lawyer for a former Gainesville Police Department dog handler believes his client will soon be cleared of wrongdoing in a controversy involving the training of a dog that was later euthanized.

Angel Vargas, who left the department in late June, was suspected by police administrators of using unorthodox training methods with an electric shock collar on a Belgian Malinois named Diego.

Vargas, who was the department’s senior dog handler, left the job after 10 years with the force and later started his own dog training service. The allegations of improper training methods did not surface until after he resigned.

Senior police officials believed electric shocks were delivered to the dog’s genitals in an attempt to stop it from biting.

Police Chief Frank Hooper expressed his concerns to Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh, who asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to conduct a probe.

Darragh said he received a report from the GBI on Friday afternoon.

"I have now received the GBI case file from the special agent investigating the case, and will be in the process of reviewing it for a determination as to whether any criminal charges are appropriate," Darragh said Tuesday. "I won’t put a specific timetable on that review and decision."

Jeff Talley, the Gainesville attorney who represents Vargas, said the belt at the center of the controversy was around the dog’s waist, not its genitals.

Talley said after talking with a number of reputable dog trainers, using an electric shock belt in that manner "could be considered an accepted method or not."

"There was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Vargas did anything wrong," Talley said.

Police officials said when Vargas resigned from the force, he was required to leave the dog with the department. Officials soon discovered that the Malinois was uncontrollably vicious, and veterinary experts deemed it beyond rehabilitation, recommending it be euthanized.

Officials believe the dog’s viciousness was due to poor training before it was purchased by the department.

Vargas’ attorney said Tuesday that his client "was not cruel to the dog. He didn’t abuse the dog. He loved the dog."

"The conventional (training) methods did not work, and that was the issue," Talley said.

He added that Vargas passed an independently administered polygraph test regarding the training of the dog.

Talley said he believes within the next few weeks his client will "definitely" be cleared of wrongdoing.