June 02, 2009

san_francisco_chronicle

i-zooThe San Francisco Zoo agreed Thursday to pay $900,000 to two brothers who survived the fatal attack by an escaped tiger on Christmas Day 2007, sources familiar with the case told The Chronicle.

The agreement with Kulbir, 25, and Amritpal "Paul" Dhaliwal, 20, resolves claims the brothers brought in U.S. District Court against the city, zoo and Sam Singer, a crisis public relations consultant the zoo hired after the attack, one source said.

Thursday's settlement comes less than two weeks after attorneys for the brothers filed court documents alleging that police officials had ordered officers to issue arrest warrants for the Dhaliwals, accusing them of manslaughter in the death of their friend, 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. of San Jose, who was killed by the tiger.

Police command staff ordered the arrest warrants to deflect attention from the city's negligence and to intimidate the brothers, "even though they were informed that the investigation could not substantiate involuntary manslaughter charges, or any charges being brought against (the Dhaliwals)," attorneys Mark Geragos and Shelley Kaufman wrote in seeking to update the lawsuit to pursue more damages against the city.

At the time, zoo and city representatives suggested the three must have taunted the tiger before it jumped out of its enclosure. The brothers were never arrested nor charged with wrongdoing in connection with the tiger's escape.

City officials referred questions on the case to the zoo, where officials did not return calls seeking comment.

The Zoological Society earlier this year settled a lawsuit with the Sousa family for an undisclosed amount.

The Dhaliwal brothers' lawsuit alleged the zoo was negligent on multiple fronts, including keeping the 243-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana in an enclosure that had walls 4 feet lower that what is recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They also say the zoo ignored workers' warnings about the wall height.

They also contended that Kulbir Dhaliwal wasn't attacked until after an employee refused to allow him into the safety of a zoo cafe. That incident occurred about 20 minutes after the tiger leapt from its grotto and attacked Paul Dhaliwal before turning on Sousa, the lawsuit said.

Kulbir Dhaliwal also argued his federal civil rights were violated because he was deprived the use of his BMW M3, the car the three took to the zoo. Police impounded the car during their investigation but didn't seek a court order to search it until they had the car for about two weeks, according to the lawsuit.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office has said the city is not liable and that its lease with the San Francisco Zoological Society, the nonprofit that operates the zoo, protects it in the lawsuit. The lawsuit also accused Singer of libel and slander for allegedly engaging in a smear campaign to suggest the young men were disreputable and had taunted the tiger. Singer also denied wrongdoing.

At the time of the attack, both brothers were facing charges of public intoxication and resisting arrest after a Sept. 7, 2007, scuffle with San Jose police. They were later convicted.

Paul Dhaliwal also has a series of other criminal convictions, including one for leading police on a 140-mph chase through San Jose in April 2007.

Geragos said the settlement included "an implicit recognition that what Sam Singer did was despicable," saying such recognition is "when somebody writes you a check."

Singer's voice mail message indicated he was out of the country. He could not be reached for comment.

By John Coté, Chronicle Staff Writer
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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