Jan. 2, 2008 -- Police today flatly denied a report that the three victims of the Christmas Day tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo were carrying slingshots on the day of the attack, which claimed the life of a 17-year-old zoo visitor.
The denial follows a report that appeared in the New York Post and cited an unnamed police source who made the slingshot claim about Carlos Sousa Jr. and brothers Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal. Sousa was killed in the attack.
The brothers who survived the vicious tiger attacks at San Francisco Zoo last week have hired legal pit bull Mark Geragos in anticipation of filing a lawsuit against the zoo.
Geragos, who is known for his roster of high-profile clients from Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder to Scott Peterson and Susan McDougal, is already making claims about what he said is the zoo's "utter disregard for safety." His new clients were released from San Francisco General Hospital Saturday and are recovering from injuries sustained in the attack that killed their friend.
Tuesday Geragos called reports that the three boys were taunting the animal "urban legend."
"There are some very disturbing facts yet to come out about what happened," Geragos told ABCNews.com. "One of the brothers had absolutely no reason to be attacked. After Carlos was attacked, this brother ran to the zoo café and they would not let him in. The same guys who sold him nachos wouldn't let him back in. They locked the doors. Thirty minutes later, he was attacked by the tiger."
An employee barricaded in the zoo's Terrace Café reportedly made the first 911 calls, saying that one of the brothers was screaming outside. According to police logs obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, officers were initially skeptical of claims of an attack: "Zoo personnel dispatch now say there are two males whom the zoo thinks are 800 [mentally unstable] and making something up. But one is in fact bleeding from the back of the head."
According to those logs, firefighters and police officers were forced to wait outside for as long as six minutes by zoo security guards enforcing an emergency lockdown.
Geragos also claims that the zoo's security staff was missing in action. "Has anybody even talked to this woman who was in the security golf cart? She was motoring around in between the first and second attacks. What was she doing?"
In addition, Geragos cited the recent revelation that Tatiana, the 350-pound Siberian tiger, escaped her enclosure because the 12-foot, 5-inch wall was nearly 4 feet below industry recommendations.
Geragos cited a previous incident in which zookeeper Lori Komejan had the flesh chewed off her arm while she was feeding Tatiana in December 2006 as indicative of the zoo's negligence. Komejan filed her own suit against the zoo after that incident, and the zoo spent $250,000 on safety upgrades. The zoo is a partnership between the city and the nonprofit San Francisco Zoological Society.
"Clearly, they were on notice after that," said Geragos. "They were deficient on virtually every level. To say that the zoo was mismanaged is an understatement."
Geragos said he was with the brothers Tuesday night "and they are absolutely devastated by what happened to Carlos, but are not ready to speak publicly. They're still grieving, and they're angry at the zoo."
The zoo has hired well-known crisis management spokesman Sam Singer to handle public relations after the mauling. Singer criticized many of the arguments offered by Geragos for the suit.
"On the face of it, his claims appear to be false and most are based on misinformation," Singer said. "If you take a look at the actual facts, you'll have a hard time proving them [Geragos's claims]."
The zoo, which reopens Thursday since closing after the attacks, could also face heavy fines from regulators and even be stripped of its exhibitor license. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent inspectors and could impose fines on the zoo.
When the zoo reopens, the tigers and other large cats will not be on exhibit in the outdoor enclosures, a zoo spokesman said. The tigers will be moved to another location within the facility where they will have a safe space to exercise.
The zoo could also face criminal charges, based upon the results of a police investigation.
"They're going to try to determine how the animal got out and whether that violated our regulations," USDA spokesman Jim Rogers told The Associated Press. "A facility must have a sufficient barrier between the viewing public and the animals."
Zoo officials or spokespeople could not be reached for comment on New Year's Day.
Monday, a spokesman announced that the zoo was working with the city's Recreation & Park Department to design a new security system for the tiger and lion grottos, which should be ready in 30 days. The zoo has also invited the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to tour and inspect its facilities, according to the spokesman.