Security expert: No foul play in elevator-shaft death

Almost two weeks after the body of pro-Israel activist Dr. Daniel Kliman was discovered at the bottom of an elevator shaft, police are continuing their investigation into what they say appears to be an accidental death.

Allan Lavigne, the security chief for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council and Jewish Community Federation since 2002, agrees with the authorities’ assessment.

He called Kliman’s death “a tragic accident” following his own examination of the crime scene and review of evidence. He suggested that Kliman’s death was “purely accidental in nature and not the result of foul play.”

“This is supported by both video and physical evidence recovered at the scene that will be laid out in the final [police department] report,” Lavigne explained in an

e-mail to Dr. Michael Harris, a close friend of Kliman’s.

Kliman’s body was discovered Dec. 1 in the historic Sharon Building at 55 New Montgomery St. in San Francisco. Police suggested the 38-year-old internist and Oakland resident died after climbing out of an elevator that was stuck between the sixth and seventh floors.

Almost as soon as the investigation began, Lavigne was in contact with SFPD and FBI officials. A veteran of the security field, Lavigne has worked as a liaison to both the Special Investigations Division of the SFPD and the FBI terrorist task force through his work with the JCRC and the Federation.

“When you look at the physical scene, the elevator appears to be an optical illusion,” Lavigne speculated in an interview. “You think ‘I can get out of there,’ but you really can’t. [Climbing out] was a risky thing to do and unsafe. That’s how people get injured and unfortunately can meet their demise.”

Because of the elaborate nature of Kliman’s case, Lavigne added, no timeline has been established for the release of the police department’s official written report. “It sounds pretty straightforward, but you have to talk to all the principles — the people in the building, security, building management, Dan’s friends and relatives.”

He continued, “It can take four to five days before a patrol officer is expected to put in a normal report. Because of Dan’s high profile in the community and the work he did, his case warranted the best investigation possible.”

Harris said it is helpful to have someone involved in the investigation who is used to working with Jewish organizations.

“Here’s someone who’s basically a part of our community who’s looking at [the case] and doesn’t have any reason to have it dismissed without a full investigation,” said Harris, a physician in Mill Valley who, with Kliman, was among the activists that founded S.F. Voice for Israel in 2004. “It’s somewhat reassuring.”

Last week, a task force with officers from the police department’s hate crimes and homicide units was formed to look into Kliman’s death.

Lt. Neville Gittens of the SFPD insisted that the task force was created based on a decision by the SFPD’s Investigations Bureau and not in response to any outside voices urging police to look into Kliman’s death as a possible homicide.

He added that because the investigation is ongoing, he could not comment further.

A funeral for Kliman was held Dec. 7 in Schenectady, N.Y., according to Kliman’s brother, Jonathan. He said Rabbi Judah Dardik, of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, “gave a wonderful eulogy” and conducted the graveside service.

Two days earlier, S.F. Voice for Israel, a group dedicated to publicly denouncing anti-Israel sentiment, led a counterprotest against S.F. Women in Black without one of its founders. “Dan was the backbone for Voice for Israel,” said member Ron Bier. “His death really fractured this group.”

A public memorial service for Kliman will be held 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14 at Beth Jacob Congregation, 3778 Park Blvd., Oakland.

Staff writer Stacey Palevsky contributed to this report.