San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Officials Criticized for Dog Attack Response

Nearly four months after two Rottweiler guard dogs fatally attacked Nicaraguan immigrant Natividad Canda, an official  investigation into the incident continues while two other government investigations have already found fault in the authorities’ handling of the incident.

Awaiting the outcome of the Prosecutor’s Office’s investigation is the mother of the victim, Juana Francisca Mairena, who has filed charges against the owner of the shop where her son was attacked, the shop’s night watchman and the eight police officers who arrived at the scene.

In addition to Mairena’s case, the government of Nicaragua has requested that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based in Washington D.C, in the United States, review Costa Rica’s response to Canda’s death, and the death of another Nicaraguan in Costa Rica, for possible submission to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, seated in San José.

Canda, an illegal immigrant from Nicaragua, was attacked by the two guard dogs just after midnight on Nov. 10, 2005, when he and two others entered the property of an auto shop in La Lima, east of San José in the province of Cartago (TT, Nov. 18, 2005).

As the watchman, and later police, firefighters, Red Cross officials and a Channel 7 TV news crew, looked on, the Rottweilers mauled Canda for more than an hour. Police officials said they could not fire on the dogs for fear of hitting Canda.

Firefighters sprayed the animals with a hose, which eventually allowed officials to pull Canda into the bed of a pickup truck.

Canda, 24, died shortly after arriving at the MaxPeraltaHospital in Cartago as a result of wounds sustained during the attack.

Footage of the attack was broadcast the following day on the TV news and caused a stir throughout the country, heightening tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Relations between the two countries had begun deteriorating in September after Costa Rica took a long-standing dispute over its navigational rights to the San Juan River –which is Nicaraguan territory by treaty – to the International Court of Justice at the Hague, in the Netherlands (TT, Sept. 30, 2005).

Inadequate Response

An investigation by the Ombudsman’s Office into where the responsibility for dealing with animal attacks lies found that the official response to the dog attack by the various emergency bodies showed “a lack of regulations and training.”

Instead of following a standard protocol, officials resorted to improvised techniques in their attempts to rescue Canda, the Ombudsman’s Office said in a statement released last month.

Following a study of the laws and regulations determining the responsibilities of the different emergency bodies, the Ombudsman’s Office concluded that it is the Firefighter Corps’ task to handle animal attacks. However, the Ombudsman’s report said, at the time of the attack the Corps had a set protocol for rescuing animals that are in danger but no protocol for dealing with situations where an animal has attacked a human.

“The neglect by the Firefighter Corps to have a protocol… implies an administrative fault,” the statement said.

The Ombudsman’s Office recommended that the Firefighter Corps create a protocol for dealing with the different types of animal attacks that could occur in Costa Rica, train its officials in the protocol, get the proper equipment and coordinate with the other emergency responders that could be directly or indirectly involved.

In addition to the Corps’ lack of procedure, the Ombudsman’s Office chastised police for not arriving at the scene fast enough. According to the daily La Nación, police officials were stopped at the gate to the property for 20 minutes awaiting permission to enter. The Ombudsman’s Office said it did not see evidence that the police, as is their responsibility and right, used force to enter the property. In its report, the Office recommended the Public Security Ministry emit a reminder to its officers that, while police should respect private property, human life comes first.

An investigation by the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) into the officials’ response, based on the Channel 7 video of the attack, found that police could have shot at the dogs, the daily Al Día reported.

“It was determined that officials had the opportunity to fire on two occasions and they didn’t do it,” OIJ Assistant Director Francisco Segura told the daily.

According to OIJ spokesman Francisco Ruiz, the report was turned over to the Prosecutor’s Office, which is continuing its investigation into the incident to determine whether charges should be filed. Ruiz declined to comment further on the report.

As part of the investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office, lead prosecutor Julián Martínez reconstructed the attack Feb. 23 at the scene of the incident, with one mannequin, two dogs (not the same ones from the attack) and nearly 40 people including investigators, witnesses and all the officials who had originally arrived at the scene, the daily La Nación reported.

The Legal Cases

Canda’s mother is not waiting for the Prosecutor’s Office to finish its investigations to make her decision.Having filed a criminal complaint in January against the owner of the property, the night watchman and the eight police who arrived on the scene (TT, Jan. 27), Mairena, through her lawyer Luis Fernando Sáenz, formally filed a querella Feb. 22. Her querella, a legal document that initiates a private prosecution, named the same defendants as her complaint, and charges them with second-degree murder, withholding help and neglect of official duties.

According to Sáenz, the accused appeared before the judge in the case on March 2 to hear the charges against them but declined to make any statements at the time. Meanwhile, Nicaragua’s request to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) could be stalled. Nicaragua had petitioned the commission to examine Costa Rica’s investigation into both the death of Canda and another Nicaraguan, José Ariel Urbina. Urbina was stabbed to death Dec. 4, 2005, by a Costa Rican after an argument in a bar that apparently stemmed from jokes related to the death of Canda.

A spokeswoman for the IACHR told The Tico Times that the commission wouldn’t comment on the case because it is being processed. However, Arturo Monge, a spokesman for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, said it is unlikely that the commission will take up the case because, according to the commission’s rules, all legal processes must first be exhausted before it will hear a case; as the ongoing investigations show, that has not been done in Costa Rica.


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