Santa Clara County Court Grants Civil Investigators’ Request to Inspect Cell Phones, Denies Request to Inspect Automobile
SAN FRANCISCO (Jan. 18, 2008) — A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge has granted in part and denied in part a petition by City Attorney Dennis Herrera and the San Francisco Zoological Society to authorize their investigators to inspect evidence belonging to Amritpal and Kulbir Dhaliwal, who survived a tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day. According to the 4-page ruling issued by Judge Socrates P. Manoukian at the close of business today, “The request of the petitioners to inspect the automobile is DENIED [while]….The request of the petitioners to inspect the cell phones in question is GRANTED.”
Efforts by Herrera and the zoo to gain access to the evidence began some two weeks ago in anticipation of civil litigation, and succeeded in obtaining an emergency court order on Jan. 8 that temporarily blocked their release to the Dhaliwal brothers by the San Francisco Police Department. Since that emergency order was issued, police investigators obtained a search warrant as part of a separate investigation into possible criminal misconduct involving the Christmas Day attack. The San Francisco Chronicle today reported that the search warrant affidavit filed in San Francisco Superior Court yesterday cited “multiple reports of a group of young men taunting animals at the zoo as basis for a court to grant police the right to search the cell phones and BMW, where police said they had seen the partially full bottle vodka bottle in the front passenger seat.”
Lawyers for the City and zoo argued to Judge Manoukian on Wednesday that they should be granted independent access to the evidence, given that the criminal and civil investigations involved separate cases, and implicated different standards of evidence.
“I’m very pleased with Judge Manoukian’s ruling, which allows our investigators to inspect the cell phones belonging to the Dhaliwal brothers,” Herrera said. “In conjunction with the information obtained under the police department’s search warrant, my initial concerns about protecting the integrity of the evidence have been satisfied. As I’ve said from the beginning of this case, preserving the full factual record ought to be a shared imperative for all of the parties with a potential stake in the tragic events of Christmas Day, and I think this ruling reflects that.”