D.A. urges court to decertify Morris record

D.A. urges court to decertify Morris record

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The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office last week urged Commonwealth Court to decertify a computer-aided dispatch record associated with the Nizah Morris incident. 

In June, Common Pleas Judge Linda A. Carpenter ruled the D.A.’s Office certified the record in a 2015 affidavit.

But in its Nov. 2 appellant’s brief, the D.A.’s Office said the affidavit’s language was based on information from PGN, which the agency didn’t independently substantiate. The brief also called into question the dispatch record’s connection to the Morris incident, comparing it to “Donald Trump’s tax returns and Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.”

Additionally, the brief noted that computer-aided dispatch records don’t originate at the D.A.’s Office. Thus, the agency isn’t required to certify such records in response to an open-records request.

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.

Officer Elizabeth Skala gave the ride to Morris. Inexplicably, Skala initiated a traffic stop while assigned to Morris, who was inebriated.

In 2009, PGN gave an incomplete dispatch record for Skala’s traffic stop to the D.A’s Office, hoping it could locate a complete record. PGN’s record doesn’t have a district-control number, priority level, initial time of occurrence or location.

Since 2013, the D.A.’s Office has submitted eight affidavits in the matter: Two indicate the agency doesn’t have any dispatch records for Skala’s traffic stop, one indicates the agency has a complete dispatch record for Skala’s traffic stop and others indicate the agency has an incomplete dispatch record for Skala’s traffic stop. 

In May 2015, to reconcile the conflicting affidavits, PGN requested a certified copy of dispatch records for Skala’s traffic stop from the D.A.’s Office. The D.A.’s Office didn’t conduct a new search. Instead, the agency said it already demonstrated that it doesn’t have any responsive records.

But in June 2016, Carpenter ruled the D.A.’s Office certified PGN’s record as its only computer-aided dispatch record for Skala’s traffic stop. The D.A. certified the record in a February 2015 affidavit, according to Carpenter’s ruling.

The judge also ruled the D.A.’s Office has assumed “some custodial control” over the document, in light of the police department’s questionable handling of Morris records.

PGN supports Carpenter’s ruling, noting the D.A.’s Office is free to obtain assistance from state or federal investigators if the agency is concerned it certified a bogus record.

In December 2003, the city’s Law Department compiled a list of Morris evidence generated during the D.A.’s investigation of Morris’ homicide. The list includes several items pertaining to Skala’s traffic stop, including a letter written by the D.A.’s Office. Thus, investigators should be able to rule out fraud, if that’s a concern, according to PGN.

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