Tiger Watch

18 01 2008

The police investigation into the tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo will soon be reclassified as “inactive” after a search failed to turn up evidence that the victims taunted the animal or committed other crimes, authorities said Friday. Sources close to the case said the investigation into the Christmas Day attack could be shelved as soon as next week and will not be reopened unless new information comes to light. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the department. A police spokesman, Sgt. Neville Gittens, said that “right now, (the investigation) is still open and active.”

On Wednesday, police investigators searched the car and the cell phones belonging to the two brothers who survived the attack that killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. of San Jose. They recovered no direct evidence to support a theory that either Paul Dhaliwal, 19, or Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, of San Jose had taunted the Siberian tiger before it attacked, authorities close to the case say.

On Friday, a Superior Court judge in Santa Clara County allowed the San Francisco city attorney’s office to inspect a two-hour span of activity on the cell phones, but not Kulbir Dhaliwal’s 2002 BMW. Lawyers wanted to check the items to prepare for expected lawsuits over the attack. Judge Socrates Manoukian found the city and zoo arguments to preserve possible evidence in the car were at best speculative. In an inventory of what they found in their search, police said the car contained a partly filled bottle of Grey Goose vodka and a kit commonly used to defeat drug testing, which included a vial of unisex synthetic urine. Police conducted the search after the case had stalled for other reasons. The Dhaliwal brothers, who talked with investigators several days after suffering head wounds in the attack, would not agree to further questioning. Also, the zoo’s operations director, Jesse Vargas, blocked police from talking to zoo authorities after initial interviews, citing attorneys’ advice, police said in their search warrant affidavit. A spokesman has said the zoo simply wants attorneys present when zoo officials are questioned. According to the search warrant statement, Paul Dhaliwal reportedly told Sousa’s father that before the attack the three young men yelled and waved at the tiger while standing atop the 3-foot-high railing of the tiger’s exhibit. However, Paul Dhaliwal denied throwing anything into the enclosure or otherwise antagonizing the animal, and police were unable to find any evidence to contradict that account. An attorney for the Sousa family, Michael Cardoza, said it was clear police had been pressured to conduct their search despite a shortage of evidence that the Dhaliwals and Sousa had committed a crime. “You wonder who is pulling the strings here,” he said. “If they were looking at bringing manslaughter (against the Dhaliwals for Sousa’s death), that is unbelievable.” Police said all three young men had been drinking and smoked marijuana before going to the zoo. Cardoza, however, ridiculed the idea that their condition had anything to do with the attack. “Come on, how many people go out there to the zoo a little stoned?” he said. “This is ridiculous. Is that a reason to dirty the kids up?”

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