City attorney fights to keep evidence intact

January 9, 2008 12:19:23 AM PST
A legal scramble is underway to protect any evidence that might be on the cell phones of the brothers mauled by that tiger.

They could contain important evidence that could affect the impending lawsuit against the city.

And on Tuesday, the City Attorney's office spoke with Gerago's office on the phone almost all afternoon, trying to negotiate some kind of compromise.

Herrera says while they were talking in good faith, Geragos was sending the brothers to the Police Department to reclaim their possessions. That's when Herrera went to court.

City attorney Dennis Herrera rushed to the McAlister Street courthouse to argue for the court order that would temporarily stop police from releasing the car and cell phones belonging to Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal.

They were injured during the tiger attack Christmas Day.

Herrera tells ABC7 it was a race against the clock. At the time, the Dhaliwal brothers were en route to the Hall of Justice to claim their possessions.

"We were engaging in good faith negotiations with Mr. Geragos him at the same time about preserving the access to the evidence that I think it's in everybody's interest to get a hold of, and at the same time his clients, under possibly his orders were racing to the police department to try to get a hold of that evidence so that when they go into court to secure a court order," said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

The evidence is important to the city attorney if the brothers sue the city because of the injuries they received during the tiger attack.

Under California law, either the city and or the San Francisco Zoological Society, which runs the zoo is liable for what happened.

ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson says the phones and their car may contain evidence that could affect the amount of money a jury would award the brothers.

"That's precisely what's the issue with this evidence. the city attorney believes or thinks possibly that evidence itself may show some sort of provocation with the animal, some sort o contributing fault and what's why this evidence is important," said ABC7 News legal analyst Dean Johnson.

The feud over the brothers' personal possessions started four days ago with the exchange of letters between city attorney Herrera and the brother's attorney Mark Geragos.

Herrera asked the brothers "preserve in its current condition all of their personal property now in custody of the San Francisco Police Department if they were returned to them, in particular the digital content of your clients' cell phones."

Herrera also asked for: "evidence in your clients' car of possible alcohol consumption."

A police source says an empty bottle of vodka was found in the car.

The city attorney also proposed a "simultaneous inspection of the car and cell phones by experts."

Geragos told ABC7news tonight that: "the city and San Francisco Police have no right to them. The brothers are the victims and these are their personal items. All this over the cell phones -- talk about trashing the victims."

Herrera says Geragos tried to deceive him. But Geragos told ABC7 News, the San Francisco police called them to say he phones and their car were being released today and that's why the brothers went to the hall.

Bottom line, the judge has ordered police to hold the evidence until a court hearing is held Friday.