D.A.’s Office needs 30 days to research Morris request


The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office last week said it needs 30 days to research whether 911 recordings pertaining to the Nizah Morris incident are publicly accessible.

Morris was a transgender woman found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after a courtesy ride from police. 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.

Since 2003, PGN has attempted to obtain complete 911 recordings for the Morris incident. Some Morris 911 recordings were released by authorities, but significant portions of them are inaudible.

In November 2015, PGN filed an open-records request with the D.A.’s Office for all Morris 911 recordings in its possession. The request ensued for about a year, while both sides participated in mediation, which was unsuccessful.

In September, the D.A.’s Office submitted an affidavit stating it doesn’t have “actual” Morris 911 recordings — apparently referring to 911 recordings originating internally within the D.A.’s Office.

On Jan. 3, PGN filed a new open-records request, clarifying that it’s seeking Morris 911 recordings originating at the police department, not the D.A.’s Office.

The D.A.’s Office said Jan. 10 it needed to conduct “a legal review” to “determine whether the requested materials are records subject to access under the [state Right-to-Know Law].”

A new deadline has been set for Feb. 9.

In 2011, the city’s Police Advisory Commission issued a subpoena to the D.A.’s Office for Morris 911 recordings. In response, the D.A.’s Office told the PAC it could only locate Morris 911 recordings provided by PGN. In 2013, the PAC took an unprecedented step of recommending state and federal probes of the Morris case.

Numerous LGBT organizations have called for an independent probe of the Morris case, including Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia, National Center for Transgender Equality, Mazzoni Center, Equality Pennsylvania, William Way LGBT Center, GALAEI, Racial Unity USA, Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, LGBT Elder Initiative, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and National LGBTQ Task Force.

Previous articleEditorial: Creating change
Next articleMore ways to travel better — and to new places — in 2017
Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.