City wins order to inspect tiger attack victims' cell phones

The city of San Francisco and its zoo won an emergency court order this afternoon temporarily securing the cell phones and a car belonging to two San Jose brothers who were mauled by a zoo tiger on Christmas Day.

The order was granted by Superior Court Commissioner Bruce Chan and will remain in effect until Chan holds a hearing on Friday on a request by the city and the San Francisco Zoological Society for authority to search the items.

Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the order was granted “with only moments to spare” before Kulbir and Amritpal Dhaliwal arrived at the Hall of Justice to retrieve the items from San Francisco police.

The phones and car have been in police custody since the attack, but city and zoo officials currently do not have authority to inspect them without the brothers' permission.

Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, and his brother Amritpal, 19, were injured and their friend Carlos Sousa, 17, of San Jose, was killed by the 350-pound Siberian tiger when it escaped from its enclosure on Dec. 25.

The tiger was fatally shot by police outside the zoo cafi, where it had followed the two brothers.

Herrera had told the brothers' attorney, Mark Geragos, in a letter Friday that the “digital content” of the cell phones “may help reconstruct what happened at the tiger exhibit and cafi.”

He also wrote, “There have also been reports that there is evidence in your clients' car of possible alcohol consumption.”

The city attorney had asked Geragos for a voluntary agreement allowing inspection of the items. Herrera said lawyers from his office were negotiating with Geragos today as the brothers were apparently en route to retrieve them.

Herrera charged, “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.”

Geragos could not immediately be reached for comment.

In a letter to Herrera on Monday, the attorney did not respond directly to the request for voluntary inspection, but maintained that the zoo and the city are legally liable for “the fact that (the zoo) let a deadly animal get out of its cage and attack zoo patrons.”

Herrera wrote in a petition to Chan today that evidence from the phones and the car might be needed to defend the city against an expected civil lawsuit by the brothers and that the material “is in danger of being destroyed.”

The hearing on Friday will be held at the city's Civic Center Courthouse. In addition to seeking authority to search the phones and vehicle, the city and zoo will ask for an order requiring their preservation as potential evidence.

Chan set that hearing in today's emergency order and wrote, “It is further ordered that the San Francisco Police Department not release any property described in the petition including cell phone(s) and vehicle until further notice.”

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