Court transfers tiger evidence dispute
to Santa Clara County
By Julia Cheever
January 11, 2008
A dispute over possible evidence in the cell phones and car
of two brothers who were mauled by a San Francisco zoo tiger was
transferred from San Francisco to Santa Clara Superior Court today.
San Francisco Superior Court Commissioner Bruce Chan said state
law has "clearly expressed" that the city's bid to inspect
the items should be heard in Santa Clara County, the residence
of Amritpal and Kulbir Dhaliwal.
The two brothers were injured and their friend, 17-year-old Carlos
Sousa Jr. of San Jose, was killed when a Siberian tiger leaped
out of its grotto on Christmas Day.
San Francisco's request for a court order allowing investigators
to examine the phones and car now goes to Santa Clara County Superior
Court Judge Socrates Manoukian, who has scheduled a hearing for
Manoukian issued a temporary order Thursday requiring San Francisco
police to maintain custody of the phones and car until further
Amritpal Dhaliwal, 19, and his brother Kulbir, 23, both of San
Jose, had requested moving the evidence dispute to the South Bay
Attorneys for San Francisco and the zoo have said the car and
photos in the cell phones may contain crucial evidence that would
be needed if the tiger victims file expected lawsuits against
the two entities.
In papers filed with Chan, lawyers for the city alleged without
giving details that the car contains a half-empty bottle of alcohol
and "apparent evidence of drug use."
They also wrote that the car may have contents that could be
relevant to foreign objects found in the tiger grotto that "may
have been used to pelt or taunt the tiger."
Outside of court, Shepard Kopp, a lawyer for the Dhaliwals, called
the suggestion of possible drug use "more character assassination."
Kopp said, "Nothing is going to come out of this that is
incriminating," but said, "Our clients want their property
The brothers' lead lawyer, Mark Geragos, wrote in a Jan. 6 letter
to City Attorney Dennis Herrera that the young men did not "throw
or propel anything at the tiger."
Deputy City Attorney Sean Connolly declined to give any details
on the city's allegations outside of court.
In court, he told Chan that "something happened to provoke
that attack" and said, "The city wants nothing more
than the truth and wants that truth preserved."
In another aspect of the dispute, the brothers' lawyers have
also argued that any evidence in the items would be irrelevant
because escape of a dangerous animal is covered by the concept
of strict liability.
The concept would mean that the city and the zoo are legally
liable for any harm caused regardless of any other factors.
But lawyers for the city contended in papers filed with Chan
on Thursday that the concept of strict liability doesn't apply
to public entities.
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