Agency dismisses PGN’s appeal for Morris 911 recordings

The state Office of Open Records last week dismissed PGN’s appeal for 911 recordings pertaining to the Nizah Morris incident in the possession of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

In a five-page ruling, the OOR said the D.A.’s Office proved in an affidavit that it doesn’t have Morris 911 recordings in its possession.

PGN contends the D.A.’s Office has at least nine pages of Morris 911 recordings, which the paper gave to the agency in 2009. According to PGN, the recordings are located in a civil-litigation file at the D.A.’s Office.

Morris was an African-American trans woman found with a fatal head wound in December 2002, shortly after a police “courtesy ride” in the Gayborhood. Her homicide remains unsolved.

After her death, PGN received Morris 911 recordings from a private individual. The paper transcribed the recordings and gave a nine-page transcript to the D.A.’s Office in 2009.

The OOR’s March 24 ruling doesn’t specifically address whether the nine pages are located at the D.A.’s Office. Instead, the ruling notes that affidavits of nonexistence are sufficient to dismiss open-records requests.

Last year, after PGN requested certified Morris 911 recordings from the D.A.’s Office, the OOR determined the nine pages to be the only records the D.A.’s Office could locate. But the OOR said the D.A.’s Office didn’t have to certify the records because they originated outside the agency.

In its current appeal, PGN is requesting a non-certified copy of Morris 911 recordings from the D.A.’s Office. PGN maintains that if the D.A.’s Office won’t provide the nine-page transcript to an open-records requester, the office may be withholding additional Morris recordings.

Additional recordings could clarify why Morris wasn’t given prompt medical attention after 911 calls were placed on her behalf, why detectives weren’t summoned to investigate, and why a police report assigned two genders to Morris.

PGN has 15 days to submit a petition for reconsideration with the OOR. The paper also has the option of filing an appeal in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court within 30 days.

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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.