D.A. says Morris 911 recordings aren’t agency records

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office last week said it doesn’t recognize 911 recordings pertaining to the Nizah Morris incident as agency records, even if they exist within agency files.

In a Feb. 23 filing with the state Office of Open Records, the D.A.’s Office said 911 recordings originate at the police department, and don’t document business activities of the D.A.’s Office.

The D.A.’s Office also submitted an affidavit stating it doesn’t have Morris 911 recordings in its “possession, custody and control,” though it has a nine-page document from PGN that reportedly contains Morris 911 recordings.

PGN shared the document with the D.A.’s Office in 2009, and the office says it’s stored within a civil-litigation file at the agency.

PGN’s position is that, if the D.A.’s Office won’t recognize the document as an agency record, it’s possible the office has additional Morris recordings it declines to publicly acknowledge. PGN is requesting all Morris 911 recordings in the D.A.’s possession, regardless of “format, presentation and configuration.” 

Morris was an African-American trans woman found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after a courtesy ride from Philadelphia police.

Her homicide remains unsolved, and the D.A.’s Office says it’s conducting an ongoing probe. 

In a Feb. 27 filing, PGN reiterated its plea for transparency in the Morris case. 

According to the paper, “It’s in the public interest to hold the DAO accountable for its Morris homicide investigation. For that to happen, the DAO must accept the responsibility that accompanies having Morris 911 recordings in its files.”

The D.A.’s Office also said it cannot vouch for the accuracy of the nine-page document received by PGN. However, PGN counters that the D.A.’s Office could add a disclaimer when providing the document to an open-records requester. 

“The crux of the matter is whether the DAO will acknowledge that Morris 911 recordings in its files are agency records — regardless of whether or not they were obtained from a private individual,” PGN asserts.

The dispute is pending before OOR Appeals Officer Joshua T. Young. A final determination is possible within the next few weeks. 

PGN has requested a public hearing in the dispute. But the OOR hadn’t ruled on that request as of presstime.

The police department 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. 

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 independent investigation has been undertaken.