D.A.’s Morris affidavits under scrutiny

Between 2013-15, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office submitted seven affidavits relating to the Nizah Morris case under penalty of perjury that appear to contain inaccuracies.

The affidavits were submitted in response to PGN’s open-records requests for computer-aided dispatch records in the D.A.’s files for a traffic stop initiated by Officer Elizabeth Skala. The officer initiated the traffic stop in December 2002, shortly after she gave a Center City “courtesy ride” to Morris, a trans woman of color who was intoxicated. 

When Skala initiated the traffic stop, she was still assigned to Morris, who was in critical condition and 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 that the paper received from the city’s Police Advisory Commission. 

The 2013 record is in a slightly different format than the 2009 record.

The D.A.’s Office submitted two affidavits in September 2013 claiming the agency had no responsive records in its files. But, four years later, the agency belatedly admitted the 2009 record from PGN was in its files at the time. 

In March 2014, PGN requested an evidentiary hearing in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court to probe whether the D.A.’s Office conducted a comprehensive search, in response to PGN’s open-records requests. But the D.A.’s Office opposed an evidentiary hearing, maintaining the office conducted a good-faith search. A Philadelphia judge sided with the D.A.’s Office and no evidentiary hearing was held. 

Five subsequent affidavits claim the only responsive record in D.A. files was the 2013 record from PGN — despite the agency’s belated admission in October 2017 that the 2009 record also was in its files. 

An August 2014 affidavit asserts the office’s “understanding” that a computer-aided dispatch record “does not have different formats, configurations or presentations but instead exists in only one specific format.”

But a computer-aided dispatch record can have a wide variety of formats. It remains unclear how the D.A.’s Office could have conducted a comprehensive search if it didn’t recognize that fact. 

A February 2015 affidavit asserts that a computer-aided dispatch record for Skala’s traffic stop is “attached hereto,” yet no record is attached to the affidavit. 

PGN plans to ask D.A.-elect Larry Krasner to review the seven affidavits after he takes office on Jan. 8. 

Many questions surround Skala’s traffic stop, including why it preempted her Morris assignment during a time when Morris urgently needed the officer’s assistance.

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 has an ongoing investigation.