PGN renews appeal for D.A.’s Morris 911 recordings

PGN last week appealed a denial by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for all 911 recordings pertaining to the Nizah Morris incident in the agency’s possession. 

The appeal was filed Feb. 10 with the state Office of Open Records. The case has been assigned to OOR Appeals Officer Joshua T. Young. 

A tentative deadline for a final determination by Young has been set for April 12. 

Morris was a transgender woman found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after a courtesy ride from police in the Gayborhood. Her homicide remains unsolved. 

The D.A.’s Office says it’s conducting an ongoing probe of the Morris case.

The police department lost its entire Morris homicide file in 2003, and it remains unclear whether Morris 911 recordings are located at the D.A.’s Office.

In a Feb. 9 letter, the D.A.’s Office denied PGN’s request for Morris 911 recordings. The letter appears to reiterate that the D.A.’s Office doesn’t have Morris 911 recordings originating within the office.

But PGN is specifically requesting Morris 911 recordings originating at the police department that may be located at the D.A.’s Office.

The D.A.’s Feb. 9 letter also asserts that Morris 911 recordings aren’t “discoverable,” though the letter doesn’t cite any legal authority to support that assertion. 

PGN’s position is that the D.A.’s Office is required to produce all Morris 911 recordings in its possession, or cite a legally valid reason why they can’t be produced. If the D.A.’s Office doesn’t have any Morris 911 recordings, then the office should submit an affidavit of nonexistence, PGN argues in its appeal.

In 2009, PGN shared with the D.A.’s Office a nine-page transcript that’s believed to contain about 90 Morris 911 transmissions. It’s unclear whether the office has more complete versions of transmissions contained in the transcript.

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 said its only Morris 911 recordings were 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 Youth Congress, LGBT Elder Initiative, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and National LGBTQ Task Force.

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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.