City: D.A.’s Morris records off-limits to police
by Timothy Cwiek
Jan 30, 2014 | 1150 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dozens of interviews conducted by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in 2003 while investigating the Nizah Morris case are unavailable to the police department, according to city attorneys.

The confidential records include a key interview with Sgt. Michael Dougherty, who reportedly told the D.A.’s Office he authorized a courtesy ride for Morris shortly before she became a homicide victim.

The transwoman’s 2002 killing remains unsolved, and her advocates want Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane to intervene.

Information in Dougherty’s interview didn’t come to light until last year, when the city’s Police Advisory Commission issued its second report on the Morris incident.

The PAC obtained the D.A.’s Morris records in November 2011, after visiting the D.A.’s Ofice and requesting copies, but the records never made it to the police department.

In a recent letter to PGN, Assistant City Solicitor Katharine L. Janoski said the D.A.’s Morris records aren’t available to city agencies, aside from the PAC.

“[T]he documents never formed a part of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Investigative File,” Janoski wrote. “These are records of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office over which the city has no jurisdiction and control, and the District Attorney’s Office has not authorized the release of the records to the city.”

Janoski’s letter goes on to state: “The PAC only has possession of these documents pursuant to a non-disclosure agreement entered into with the District Attorney’s Office.”

Police Internal Affairs didn’t know about Dougherty’s interview when it reviewed the case for departmental infractions in 2004.

Former state Rep. Babettte Josephs said the lack of record-sharing among agencies highlights the need for a state probe.

“How can any unprofessional behavior or crime on the part of the police be investigated adequately if the D.A. isn’t sharing information with the police?” Josephs posed, adding that “it’s outrageous that the police department still doesn’t have the D.A.’s [Morris] records. Haven’t they learned anything from this debacle? The situation is bizarre, and cries out for Ms. Kane’s involvement.”

Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesperson, had no comment on whether Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey would seek copies of the D.A.’s records for the department’s Morris homicide file.

Stanford also had no comment on whether Ramsey would initiate an overall review of the record-sharing practices between the D.A.’s office and the police.

Compounding problems was the loss of the police department’s Morris homicide file for several years, which resulted in Internal Affairs also not having the unredacted Morris police report.

The unredacted report indicates that responding officers were aware of Morris’ anatomical gender and impaired physical condition earlier than they conveyed to Internal Affairs.

Similarly, the PAC members in 2006 weren’t aware of Dougherty’s interview and the unredacted police report when they held public hearings on the Morris case.

At this week’s PAC meeting, members said requests for information contained in their Morris file would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If the information exists in their file and it’s legal to release it, they will do so.

After the meeting, Jackie Cassel, a member of the Justice for Nizah committee, expressed support for full transparency in the Morris case.

“In the name of justice, and for the sake of Nizah Morris’ family, friends and community advocates, I question obfuscation of facts under the guise of ‘confidentiality,’” Cassel said. “The public has a right to know the truth of what happened 11 years ago when Nizah became a homicide victim, shortly after getting inside a Philadelphia police vehicle.”

In a related matter, Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil-rights organization, recently added its name to a growing list of organizations calling for a state probe into Morris’ death.

“Nizah Morris’ family has had to live with too many questions about her death for more than a decade,” said HRC state legislative director Sarah Warbelow. “Inconsistencies exist in the accounts of the Philadelphia Police Department surrounding the timeline leading up to Nizah’s death. We all deserve dignity and respect, and a state probe would go a long way in giving that to Nizah Morris. We are hopeful that Attorney General Kane will follow the recommendation of numerous advocates and the city’s Police Advisory Commission and open a probe into this troubling matter.”

Other groups supporting a state probe include the National Center for Transgender Equality, GALAEI, Equality Pennsylvania, GLAAD, Keystone Progress, the ACLU of Greater Philadelphia, Jewish Social Policy Action Network and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women.

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