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Navy veteran sues Chula Vista church claiming retired police dog housed on the property attacked, mauled him

The International Christian Center says the Navy veteran was a professional dog trainer and knew the risks of training Max, a Belgian Malinois, which was housed in the church's annex
Posted at 6:32 PM, May 29, 2024

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) — Erwin Montoya, a U.S. Navy legacy, had served 22 years and was deployed four times.

He was looking for a new career after spending most of his time in the service training bomb-sniffing dogs.

Montoya told ABC 10 he thought he found the right match and was going into business with a person who had a security company. It used retired police dogs to sniff for firearms or explosive devices.

However, Montoya said a training session for one of those dogs went terribly wrong on May 26, 2023.

That's when, according to lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court, he went to the International Christian Center in Chula Vista to train a Belgian Malinois.

The dog, which looks like a smaller, blonder German shepherd, had vicious propensities and was inclined to chase, bite, maul and disfigure people who came nearby, according to the suit.

The suit, filed March 1, claims the dog had previously bitten at least one other person.

Yet, it was housed in an annex on church property.

And the training session quickly turned violent, Montoya said.

"I intervened and with my experience I told myself I better jump in before it gets worse," Montoya told ABC 10. "So, I grabbed the leash, and I tried to control the dog."

Montoya said he then backed up, hit his head on a table, and fell to the ground.

"That's when the dog was biting me all over my left side," said Montoya, adding his left arm was torn up.

He said the dog also bit his stomach and tried to kill him.

"He was trying to go for my throat," Montoya said. "Once a dog bites you in the neck, it's 50-50...I thought I was going to die that day. I was in shock, and I was thinking of my newborn baby."

Montoya said he was taken to a hospital because of the bites, and he doesn't know why the dog was being housed at the church.

"I'm not sure why they were housing a dog," he said.

Montoya sued International Christian Center and the dog owner, alleging negligence and liability.

Among the claims: The dog was a type of canine that was inherently dangerous and trained to bite.

Tommy Vu, one of Montoya's attorneys, said his client wants the church and dog owner to be held accountable.

"He has suffered tremendous injuries. He has a lot of medical bills. And the most unfortunate thing of all of this is he's got a newborn that he struggles to take care of," Vu said.

The church, in a court filing, said Montoya knew the risks that day.

In court records, the church also cited the "veterinarian's rule" in its defense.

That's when a person who works with dogs knows there's a chance of getting bit.

Steve Cruz, who said he was a church board member, told ABC 10 that the International Christian Center's attorney told him and others to not comment.

"Thank you and God bless," Cruz said.

Calls and emails to the church's attorney and the other defendant were not returned.

Montoya initially was seeking $40,000 before filing the suit.

Montoya's attorneys said all sides are in negotiations for a possible settlement.