Wording of D.A.’s Morris affidavit challenged

PGN is challenging the wording of an affidavit that supposedly proves the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office doesn’t possess 911 recordings pertaining to the Nizah Morris incident.

On March 24, the state Office of Open Records determined that the affidavit passed legal muster. But PGN is asking the office to take another look. On March 30, PGN filed a “petition for reconsideration” with the OOR.

In the affidavit at issue, a D.A. staffer wrote “I personally searching,” rather than “I personally searched” — referring to a search for Morris 911 recordings at the D.A.’s Office. According to PGN’s petition, the D.A.’s language demonstrates an “ongoing” search for Morris 911 recordings, rather than a completed search.

The D.A.’s language is “particularly unsettling” because the office is believed to have at least nine pages of Morris 911 recordings, according to the petition. In 2009, PGN gave Morris 911 recordings to the D.A.’s Office, but they’ve never been certified. PGN received the recordings from a private individual after Morris’ death.

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

Additional Morris 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.                                            

Melissa B. Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said agencies should provide clear affidavits. 

“This [wording] seems like an unintentional drafting oversight on the part of the D.A.’s Office,” Melewsky told PGN. “But as I’ve said before, affidavits should be as clear as possible when they are taking the place of testimony given under oath because it is the only evidence provided by an agency during a Right-to-Know Law appeal before the Office of Open Records.”

Charles P. Goodwin, an attorney for PGN, echoed Melewsky’s sentiments.

“All lawyers make mistakes and always hate it. Let’s hope this doesn’t reflect any lack of attention,” Goodwin said. 

In a related open-records case, the D.A.’s Office acknowledged it discarded a Morris dispatch record provided to the office by PGN in 2009. However, PGN provided another copy of the record to the office in 2013. That case remains pending in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.