New request for Morris records filed with D.A’s Office

PGN this week filed a new open-records request for 911 recordings pertaining to the Nizah Morris incident in the possession of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

In November 2015, the paper filed a similar request with the D.A.’s Office. However, PGN’s request didn’t specify that it’s seeking 911 recordings originating at the Philadelphia Police Department, rather than the D.A.’s Office. 

As a result, the D.A.’s Office apparently limited its open-records search to 911 recordings that originated internally within the D.A.’s Office, which are non-existent. 

PGN appealed to the state Office of Open Records. But in a 10-page decision last week, the OOR denied the appeal, noting that PGN’s initial request failed to specify that it’s seeking 911 recordings originating at the police department. 

In its appeal, PGN clarified it’s seeking 911 recordings that originated at the police department. But the OOR said the clarification was too late. 

“[A] requester may not modify, explain or expand upon a request on appeal to include other records,” the OOR noted. 

However, the OOR said the paper could file a new request with the D.A.’s Office. “Nothing prohibits the requester from filing another [Right-to-Know Law] request with the [D.A.’s] Office or other City of Philadelphia agency,” the OOR stated.

On Jan. 3, PGN filed a new request with the D.A.’s Office, specifying that it’s seeking Morris 911 recordings originating at the police department. 

Morris was a transgender woman found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after a courtesy ride from Philadelphia police. She died two days later, on Dec. 24, 2002. Her homicide remains unsolved. 

The police department lost its entire Morris homicide file in 2003, and it remains possible that Morris 911 recordings were lost at the D.A.’s Office. 

Julie Chovanes, an attorney and executive director of Trans-Help Inc., expressed hope for transparency in the Morris case.

“The public must have access to all the information about what happened to Nizah Morris 14 years ago,” Chovanes said. “The trans community needs to know whether what happened to Nizah could happen to them, even now. If the requested information hides criminal behavior, those hiding the information now are hiding criminals.”