Oral arguments in Morris 911 case set for January

Oral arguments will be held in January on PGN’s open-records request for 911 recordings relating to the Nizah Morris case from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, it was announced this week.

Morris was a transgender woman of color found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after accepting a Center City “courtesy ride” from Philadelphia police. The D.A.’s Office continues to investigate her homicide. 

Shortly after Morris’ death, a private citizen gave PGN 911 recordings relating to the courtesy ride. PGN compiled the recordings into a nine-page transcript. 

The recordings contradict police accounts that Morris could navigate on her own when accepting the courtesy ride. The recordings also show that passersby found Morris’ body within minutes of the ride’s conclusion. 

PGN contends the D.A.’s copy of PGN’s transcript must be produced to open-records requesters upon payment of a reasonable copying fee.

At an Oct. 10 court proceeding, a D.A staffer acknowledged PGN’s transcript but stopped short of agreeing that it must be produced to open-records requesters.

PGN attorney Justin F. Robinette argued that if the D.A.’s Office won’t produce the transcript to open-records requesters, it’s possible there are additional Morris recordings at the office being impermissibly withheld. 

But the D.A. staffer assured Common Pleas Judge Abbe F. Fletman that the office wasn’t withholding any Morris 911 recordings from the public. 

Robinette said the police department lost its Morris homicide file and the public has a right to know the extent of the D.A.’s Morris recordings. 

Robinette also requested “limited discovery” from the D.A.’s Office, to help clarify the D.A.’s position on PGN’s transcript as a public record.

Fletman denied the request but said both sides may submit briefs on the subject and that oral arguments will be held. 

PGN’s brief is due Dec. 8 and the D.A.’s brief is due Jan. 8. Oral arguments will be held 10 a.m. Jan. 19 in Courtroom 426 of City Hall.

Outside the courtroom, Robinette reiterated his plea for transparency in the Morris case.

Previous articleObituary: John Oates, registered nurse, 52
Next articleBebashi launches trans-resource program
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.