PGN requests civilian oversight of police department’s Nizah Morris probe

Nizah Morris

Twenty years after Nizah Morris was killed, PGN has filed a complaint with the Citizens Police Oversight Commission (CPOC), seeking civilian oversight of the Internal Affairs probe of her death.

Morris was a trans woman of color who was discovered by passersby in December 2002 with a fatal head wound, shortly after receiving a so-called “courtesy ride” from Philadelphia police. Her homicide remains unsolved.

On Nov. 7, PGN filed a formal complaint with CPOC, seeking to have the commission monitor a new probe of Morris’ death announced by Philadelphia police in September.

The officers involved in Morris’ courtesy ride include Elizabeth DiDonato (nee Skala), Thomas Berry and Kenneth Novak. They remain on the police force and receive an annual salary of about $83,000. A 2004 Internal Affairs probe of the officers didn’t result in any substantive discipline for them.

DiDonato reportedly transported Morris a few blocks during the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 22, 2002 — from the vicinity of 13th and Walnut streets to 15th and Walnut streets. DiDonato told investigators Morris was inebriated and asked DiDonato to take her home.

However, Morris lived in West Philadelphia, more than three miles away from 15th and Walnut streets, where DiDonato said she transported her.

A new Internal Affairs probe of the Morris incident was announced on Sept. 29, shortly after PGN posed a series of questions to Philadelphia police about Morris’ death.

PGN’s complaint with CPOC cites numerous flaws with the 2004 Internal Affairs probe. The alleged errors include: failing to question the homicide unit about its loss of Morris’ homicide file; failing to investigate an altered police report written by Berry; failing to question DiDonato and Novak about a traffic stop they participated in while Morris lay dying at 16th and Walnut streets; failing to investigate altered computer-aided dispatch records and 911 recordings; failing to question officers about their incriminating patrol-log entries; failing to interview a police supervisor about permission he allegedly gave for the courtesy ride; failing to investigate how Morris got from 15th Street to 16th Street (where her body was found); and failing to investigate a false notification police sent to a PGN reporter which states there’s no police report of the Morris incident.

CPOC was created in 2021 and serves all complainants, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, citizenship status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and occupation, according to its enabling legislation.

CPOC replaced the city’s Police Advisory Commission, which investigated the Morris incident for about 10 years. In 2013, the now-defunct PAC called for state and federal probes of Morris’ death but didn’t take follow-up steps to ensure such probes would take place.

Asa Khalif, a community advocate who was a friend of Morris, said he’ll closely monitor the CPOC and Internal Affairs investigations. 

“There’s no such thing as a perfect murder,” Khalif told PGN. “Even 20 years after Nizah’s death, I remain hopeful this crime will be solved.”

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