PGN requests public hearing in Morris dispute

PGN has requested a public hearing in a dispute involving access to 911 recordings pertaining to the Nizah Morris incident believed to be in the possession of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

The request, filed Feb. 16 with the state Office of Open Records, notes uncertainty about whether the D.A.’s Office possesses any 911 recordings for the Morris case.

As of presstime, the OOR hadn’t ruled on the paper’s request. 

Morris was an African-American trans woman found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after a courtesy ride from police in the Gayborhood. Her homicide remains unsolved, and the D.A.’s Office says it’s conducting an ongoing probe.

On Dec. 28, in response to a prior open-records appeal by PGN, the OOR determined that the only Morris 911 recordings in the possession of the D.A.’s Office are those provided by PGN. 

PGN provided those recordings to the D.A.’s Office in 2009, after obtaining them from a private individual. The recordings haven’t been certified by a law-enforcement agency.

In a Feb. 9 letter to PGN, the D.A.’s Office denied possessing any Morris 911 recordings.

In its request for an OOR hearing, PGN said it’s in the public interest to resolve conflicting statements by the D.A.’s Office regarding its Morris holdings. “[A hearing] will afford the OOR an opportunity to take a hard look at the troubling issues raised in this matter.”

If the OOR denies PGN’s request for a hearing, a final determination regarding PGN’s appeal for all Morris 911 recordings in the D.A.’s possession is due on or before April 12. 

The matter has been assigned to OOR Appeals Officer Joshua T. Young.

The police department reported it had lost its entire Morris homicide file in 2003, and when a partial homicide file was located at the city Archives Unit in 2011, it didn’t contain any Morris 911 recordings.

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.

No such investigation is underway, as of presstime.