Court commissioner considering bid to inspect tiger evidence

A San Francisco Superior Court commissioner was scheduled to hear arguments Friday on the city’s bid for a court order allowing inspection of the cell phones and car of two San Jose brothers who were mauled by a zoo tiger Christmas Day.

City lawyers say the items could contain evidence of “critical importance” about what happened when a Siberian tiger leaped out of its grotto and injured Amritpal and Kulbir Dhaliwal and killed their friend, 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr.

The city and the San Francisco Zoological Society have told court commissioner Bruce Chan that the evidence may be needed in their defense of civil lawsuits they expect the victims to file.

In court papers filed Thursday, lawyers for the city alleged, without giving details, that the Dhaliwals’ car contained a half-empty large bottle of alcohol and “apparent evidence of drug use.”

The city also alleges in its brief that foreign objects were found in the tiger grotto that are “consistent with the type of objects that may have been used to pelt or taunt the tiger before the incident.” The city’s brief contends the contents of the car “may be relevant” to those objects.

City lawyers also wrote that the cell phones may contain relevant photos.

The brothers’ lawyer, Mark Geragos, has argued in opposition papers that the dispute over inspection of the items should be heard in Santa Clara County, where the Dhaliwals live.

Geragos also told San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera in a letter on Jan. 6 that his clients did not “throw or propel anything at the tiger.”

Geragos has additionally contended that the escape of a dangerous animal is covered by the concept of strict liability, meaning that the city and the zoo are legally liable for any harm caused regardless of any other factors.

But in the brief filed Thursday, city attorneys dispute that theory and argue that the concept of strict liability doesn’t apply to public entities.

In a separate hearing at City Hall on Friday, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission is considering staff reports and public comment on the incident.

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