City denies request for two key Morris interviews
by Timothy Cwiek
Feb 13, 2014 | 1019 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
City attorneys say the Police Advisory Commission cannot release confidential interviews with William Jackson — a key witness in the Nizah Morris case — even though his public testimony is unavailable because the agency didn’t order a transcript.

Morris was a transgender woman who became a homicide victim in 2002, shortly after getting inside a police vehicle for a “courtesy ride.” The case remains unsolved.

Jackson was a passing motorist who saw Morris laying at 16th and Walnut streets shortly after the courtesy ride.

In 2007, Jackson testified at a PAC hearing, but his testimony is permanently unavailable because PAC staffers failed to order a transcript.

In 2011, the PAC obtained copies of two interviews with Jackson from the District Attorney’s Office. The city Law Department claims those interviews are off-limits to the public.

Jackson is named in the Morris police report as a witness in support of the premise that Morris was simply a drunk person who fell.

But Jackson can be heard on 911 tapes saying he didn’t know what was wrong with the person.

Officer Thomas Berry wrote the report, after responding to the scene at 16th and Walnut.

In 2003, Berry told a detective that Jackson alerted him to the scene by flagging him down from a distance.

But computerized-dispatch records state that Berry was alerted by police radio.

If Berry noted in his paperwork that police radio alerted him, the entire incident couldn’t have been recorded as a “hospital case,” due to the configuration of police-reporting forms.

But Berry didn’t make that notation, and the entire incident was recorded as a hospital case — even during the time period when Morris was a courtesy-ride recipient.

As a result, none of the responding officers documented the ride — raising concerns that the process was manipulated to avoid filing accurate paperwork.

It remains publicly unknown if the D.A.’s Office asked Jackson whether he flagged down Berry.

At their Jan. 27 meeting, PAC members were asked to release copies of Jackson’s interviews, in light of the questionable police paperwork.

PAC members also were reminded of their non-compliance with a mayoral order stating: “A stenographic record shall be kept [of PAC-hearing testimony] and shall be made available, upon payment of costs, to any person requesting same.”

This week, a letter from the city Law Department said Jackson’s interviews aren’t available to the public because of a nondisclosure agreement between the PAC and the D.A.’s Office.

Also at the Jan. 27 meeting, PAC members were asked to consider the possibility of verbally quoting from Jackson’s interviews, if photocopies cannot be released.

The alternate request was made because the nondisclosure agreement allows the PAC to “cite, quote or describe” Morris information it received from the D.A.’s Office.

The Law Department letter didn’t specifically address the alternate request.

The D.A.’s Office has restricted access to Morris information to such an extent that Police Internal Affairs wasn’t informed that a sergeant said he authorized the courtesy ride.

The sergeant’s statement didn’t come to light until 2013, several years after Internal Affairs completed its review of the Morris incident for departmental infractions.

Advocates for Morris say the D.A.’s Office appears to be engaged in a cover-up, rather than properly investigating Morris’ homicide.

They’ve asked state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane to step in, and numerous organizations have lent their support for a state probe.

Former state Rep. Babette Josephs said the Morris case has been a “festering wound” for the LGBT community and allies.

“Clearly, sunshine would be the best disinfectant,” Josephs told PGN. “We’re very grateful to the PAC for its efforts. And we hope it will do everything in its power to ensure full transparency in this troubling matter.”

Josephs also reiterated her request for Kane to review the case, and to make her findings available to the public.

“Pennsylvanians deserve the true and complete story about what happened to Nizah Morris, and the subsequent investigation into her homicide,” Josephs added.

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