Geragos says S.F. Zoo knew of dangers

The San Francisco Zoo refused to act on warnings about the big-cat enclosure, allowing a 350-pound Siberian tiger to escape and kill a San Jose teenager, said the lawyer for two brothers who survived the Christmas Day mauling.

Attorney Mark Geragos, in an angry letter addressed to the City Attorney’s Office Sunday, wrote that a preliminary investigation turned up a “proposal to fortify the exhibit so that visitors to the zoo would not be in danger of the kind of attack as occurred on Christmas Day 2007. Zoo officials, however, refused to act, apparently claiming a lack of funds for those safety measures.”

He said Monday that the information came from a former maintenance worker and an independent contractor who were both interviewed by his private investigators.

Zoo officials have repeatedly said the tiger was provoked and jumped over a wall that was just under 12½ feet tall, four feet lower than national standards.

Geragos wrote that the failure of the zoo to renovate the enclosure was, “almost more disturbing than the horrific events” of Christmas Day.

Sam Singer, a media relations specialist hired by the zoo, said Monday zoo officials were not aware of any reports stating the public was in danger.

“We checked with zoo officials and no one is aware of such a report,” Singer said. “You have to wonder where he got the information.”

The letter was in response to a request by City Attorney Dennis Herrera that the Dhaliwals preserve any evidence that may be used in a police investigation. Since the City Attorney’s Office would be handling any civil case that may be lodged against The City or the zoo.

Geragos rejected any assertion that the brothers have refused to cooperate with San Francisco police. He wrote that the Dhaliwals had already scheduled a meeting with the leading police inspector assigned to the case and that criminal charges have not been filed.

A criminal investigation by police is still open and ongoing, Sgt. Neville Gittens said. Mayor Gavin Newsom also announced Monday that The City will conduct public hearings. The first is scheduled for Friday, and will allow the Recreation and Park Commission and the Joint Zoo Committee to “further investigate how this incident happened and what measures are needed to prevent this type of incident from occurring ever again.”

The mayor’s announcement and Geragos assertions came a day prior to the funeral services for the 17-year-old mauling victim Carlos Sousa Jr. A procession and burial will take place in San Jose. Carlos Sousa Sr., the victim’s father, said he has yet to speak with the Dhaliwal brothers, and he would not seek legal action until Carlos Sousa, Jr. was “in a safe place.”

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