Emergency order bars tiger survivors from getting their car, phones
Audrey Cooper, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
(01-08) 15:49 PST SAN FRANCISCO - -- San Francisco city officials have obtained an emergency court order that prevents police from giving back the cell phones and car belonging to the two survivors of the tiger attack at the zoo.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the court order was necessary to preserve evidence that may help the city fight any lawsuits filed by the survivors, Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and his 23-year-old brother, Kulbir Dhaliwal, both of San Jose.
The brothers were mauled Christmas Day by an escaped tiger that killed a 17-year-old friend, Carlos Sousa Jr. of San Jose. Sousa's funeral was this morning.
Although police have said they have no proof that the young men taunted the 350-pound Siberian tiger, city and zoo officials have speculated that evidence in the car or photos in the cell phones' cameras may help determine why the tiger jumped out of its outdoor exhibit.
Police do not now have legal grounds to search the car or the phones.
In a statement released by his office, Herrera said Court Commissioner Bruce Chan had issued the emergency order "just moments" before the Dhaliwal brothers arrived at a police station to pick up their belongings.
The phones and car will remain in police custody at least until a court hearing Friday. That hearing will help determine whether investigators from Herrera's office and representatives from the San Francisco Zoological Society will be allowed to inspect the items. The society is the nonprofit group that runs the zoo operations.
In his statement, Herrera said he was disappointed that the brothers' attorney, Mark Geragos, had not agreed to preserve the potential evidence in the car or on the phones.
"My office believed it was talking to Mr. Geragos in good faith to reach an agreement to preserve potentially relevant evidence," Herrera said. "It now appears that Mr. Geragos was just stalling until his clients could get to the Police Department to claim their cell phones and car. I am gratified that his gamesmanship failed and that the court will now be able to decide these important issues on the merits."
Geragos, who could not immediately be reached for comment, and Herrera have been trading barbs for several days. Geragos says city officials have engaged in a smear campaign against his clients to obscure the truth: that the brothers were attacked without provocation by an animal that the city owned.
Read the court order at www.sfgate.com/ZCAA.
Read Geragos' letter to Herrera: www.sfgate.com/ZBZG
Read Herrera's request to inspect the phones and car: www.sfgate.com/ZBYY
For The Tiger
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