PGN files brief in Morris open-records case

PGN files brief in Morris open-records case

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PGN has filed a legal brief urging a Philadelphia judge to uphold an order by the state Office of Open Records pertaining to the Nizah Morris case.


Morris was a trans woman found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after a Center City “courtesy ride” by Officer Elizabeth Skala. Morris’ homicide remains unsolved.

In August, the OOR ordered the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to provide to PGN a certified copy of its dispatch records for a traffic stop initiated by Skala. When Skala initiated the traffic stop, at 3:30 a.m. Dec. 22, 2002, Morris was in critical condition several blocks away due to a fractured skull.

Though Skala was assigned to Morris until 4:02 a.m., she stayed at the traffic stop rather than ensure Morris’ prompt transportation to a hospital. 

At 6:20 a.m., Skala made a belated visit to Morris at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. But by then, Morris was brain-dead. 

In 2009, PGN gave the D.A.’s Office a document containing 13 dispatch entries for Skala’s traffic stop. PGN obtained the document from the city’s Police Advisory Commission. 

The document is missing several dispatch entries, including an entry specifying the priority level of the traffic stop.

Last year, PGN asked the D.A.’s Office to provide a certified copy of all of its dispatch records pertaining to Skala’s traffic stop in order to clarify the agency’s holdings. The D.A.’s Office refused to comply, arguing that it’s not required to certify records it received from PGN. 

After the OOR ordered the D.A.’s Office to comply with PGN’s request, the D.A.’s Office filed an appeal in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, where the matter remains pending.

In its March 3 brief, PGN maintains the D.A.’s Office should certify the dispatch records it received from PGN. Alternately, the D.A.’s Office should certify that none of its other documents contains dispatch records for Skala’s traffic stop. 

PGN’s brief also notes that in 2009, the D.A.’s Office refused to disclose whether it has any dispatch records for Skala’s traffic stop. 

“If the DAO hasn’t reversed its 2009 position, [PGN] has the right to be informed of that fact, so that [it] can make informed decisions as to [its] legal options,” the brief states. 

The D.A.’s Office admits to destroying the document it received from PGN in 2009. But PGN gave the D.A.’s Office additional copies of the document in 2013, which the agency hasn’t destroyed.

The case remains pending before Common Pleas Judge Linda A. Carpenter. Oral arguments are scheduled for 10 a.m. April 7 in Courtroom 232 of City Hall. 

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