D.A.’s Office finds ‘destroyed’ Morris record

Nizah Morris

 

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office last month said it located a dispatch record associated with the Nizah Morris incident that the office previously claimed to have “destroyed” pursuant to its records-retention policy.

The record pertains to a traffic stop initiated by Officer Elizabeth Skala in 2002, shortly after she gave a Center City “courtesy ride” to trans woman Nizah Morris, who was intoxicated.

According to police records, Skala was still assigned to Morris when she initiated an unrelated traffic stop at 13th and Market streets — about five blocks from 16th and Walnut streets, where passersby spotted Morris in critical condition.

Morris died two days later, on Dec. 24, 2002, due to blunt-force head trauma. Her homicide remains unsolved and the D.A.’s Office says the investigation is ongoing.

Many questions surround Skala’s traffic stop, including why it preempted her Morris assignment — during a time when Morris urgently needed transportation to a hospital.

In 2009 and 2013, PGN gave the D.A.’s Office computer-aided dispatch records for Skala’s traffic stop. The 2013 record is in a slightly different format than the 2009 record.

In 2015, the D.A.’s Office told the state Office of Open Records that it “destroyed” its original copy of the 2009 record pursuant to its records-retention policy.

But last month, in a letter to PGN attorney Justin F. Robinette, the D.A.’s Office said it located its original copy of the 2009 record. The letter doesn’t offer specifics regarding the record’s belated discovery.

The D.A.’s Office also said it will produce certified copies of its dispatch records for Skala’s traffic stop, upon payment of a $27.75 fee.

But PGN declines to purchase the certified copies until the office submits an affidavit verifying that it’s providing all responsive records in its files, including the 2009 record.

So far, the D.A.’s Office has declined to submit the requested affidavit. 

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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.