Hearing scheduled in Morris case

A hearing is scheduled next month on PGN’s open-records request for 911 recordings from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office relating to the Nizah Morris incident.

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. 

PGN seeks non-certified 911 recordings relating to the Morris incident in all formats from the D.A.’s Office. But the agency maintains it doesn’t have any responsive records in its “possession, custody or control.”

In 2016, the state Office of Open Records determined a nine-page transcript of Morris 911 recordings created by PGN is in the D.A.’s “possession, custody or control.” PGN made the transcript based on Morris 911 recordings received from a private citizen — and shared the transcript with the D.A.’s Office in 2009.

However, the D.A.’s Office maintains the transcript isn’t an agency record in its “possession, custody or control.” Thus, the transcript isn’t subject to disclosure, in response to an open-records request.

“It’s extremely unsettling that the D.A.’s Office is treating the transcript in such a cavalier manner,” said Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for PGN. “Naturally, one is left to wonder whether other responsive records are being withheld by the agency. The way the D.A. is approaching this matter, there’s no accountability. That’s entirely unacceptable.” 

A February 2017 affidavit submitted by the D.A.’s Office containing the phrase “I personally searching” also is problematic, as it indicates an incomplete search for responsive records, Robinette added. 

A hearing on PGN’s appeal for Morris 911 recordings is set for 10 a.m. July 10 in Room 285 of City Hall, with Common Pleas Judge Daniel J. Anders presiding.

“Judge Anders’ order for the conference mentions several potential matters to be addressed, including the general merits of the case, whether any discovery is needed and deadlines for briefings and oral argument,” Robinette explained. 

If accurate and complete, the nine-page transcript corroborates eyewitness accounts that Morris couldn’t navigate on her own due to intoxication. But a Philadelphia police officer claimed Morris was able to stand and walk without assistance, and that she was an appropriate recipient of a courtesy ride. 

The transcript also tends to corroborate the testimony of a witness who saw Morris after her head injury, lying unconscious at 16th and Walnut streets. 

The witness told the Police Advisory Commission that a police officer and two paramedics had a lengthy conversation while Morris lay in the street. Then, the officer allegedly placed Morris’ jacket over her face as she was lifted onto a stretcher.

Morris died two days later, on Dec. 24, 2002, due to blunt-force head trauma. Her death was declared a homicide the next day by the city Medical Examiner’s Office.