Prior to issuing their 2013 report on the Nizah Morris incident, members of the city’s Police Advisory Commission were assured they had access to all Morris 911 recordings at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. But documents obtained by PGN suggest that might not have been so.
Morris was an African-American trans woman found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after entering a police vehicle in the Gayborhood for a “courtesy ride.” Her homicide remains unsolved.
In the fall of 2011, the D.A.’s Office sent multiple emails to a PAC attorney, insisting the agency didn’t have any 911 recordings for the Morris incident.
At the time, the PAC was in its eighth year of reviewing the Morris case. The PAC already had issued a discredited Morris report in 2007, and wanted to be sure its follow-up report was based on all available Morris records.
In an email dated Oct. 4, 2011, a D.A. staffer wrote: “The only thing[s] I cannot get clearance to show the PAC are the internal legal memos which reflect legal judgments and opinions.”
The email went on to specifically deny having Morris 911 recordings. “As to videos, recordings or transcripts thereof, this was the subject of prior litigation with a [PGN] reporter. We do not have any recordings, videos or transcripts in the file,” the D.A. staffer wrote.
On Nov. 3, 2011, the D.A. staffer sent another email, stating: “[T]o answer an earlier question, we are not in possession of any 911 materials, tapes, transcripts, etc.”
A few weeks later, a D.A. staffer sent a third email on the subject. “We have ripped the entire file apart, yet again, and have found no 911 transcripts,” the staffer wrote. “I will reconfirm now that the PAC has viewed our entire file. The only thing removed from our file for the PAC’s review were the internal confidential legal memoranda amongst DAO personnel. We do not have transcripts in our file. If we had them, we would tell you we had them. We do not.”
But the file that was searched not only didn’t contain any 911 recordings, it didn’t contain any police-department records whatsoever. A list of items in the file was distributed at a public PAC meeting. All of the items originated at the D.A.’s Office, with the sole exception of Morris’ autopsy report, which originated at the medical examiner’s office.
Some PAC members knew the D.A.’s Office had a transcript of partial Morris 911 recordings supplied by PGN in 2009. The D.A.’s Office seemingly kept the transcript in a separate file; when confronted with that information, the D.A. staffer belatedly offered to provide a copy to the PAC.
At their January 2012 public meeting, PAC members expressed a desire for a copy of the transcript, and subsequently concluded they had access to all Morris 911 recordings at the D.A.’s Office.
PGN currently has an open-records request with the D.A.’s Office for a certified copy of its Morris 911 recordings. The paper contends the office hasn’t provided all responsive records in its possession. As of presstime, the request was under review by the state Office of Open Records.
The PAC’s 2013 Morris report, which called for state and federal probes of the case, commended D.A. Seth Williams for cooperating with the PAC’s request for Morris records. But it remains to be seen whether the acknowledgement was warranted.