D.A.’s Office files brief in Morris case
by Timothy Cwiek
May 08, 2014 | 704 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office filed a legal brief this week in response to PGN’s request for an unredacted dispatch record relating to the Nizah Morris case.

The brief was accompanied by an attestation of non-existence, which inaccurately describes the record requested by PGN as a computer-assisted dispatch “report.”

The paper hasn’t requested a dispatch “report,” but rather a contemporaneous record that was generated at the 911 call center.

Use of the inaccurate descriptor leaves open the possibility that the D.A.’s Office does have the requested dispatch record. The attestation acknowledges the D.A.’s Office possesses a redacted copy of the requested “report,” but it doesn’t divulge the source of the redaction.

The only document the attestation clearly denies locating is a copy of the dispatch record provided by PGN.

Morris was a transgender woman who became a homicide victim in 2002, shortly after entering a police vehicle for a Center City “courtesy ride.”

The case remains unsolved, and Morris’ advocates are calling for a state probe.

In 2008, the city’s Police Advisory Commission gave PGN a redacted computer-assisted dispatch record relating to the Morris case.

It’s believed the unredacted record could help explain why Morris’ initial set of police-tracking numbers were permanently voided at the 911 call center. Once those numbers were voided, responding officers had no obligation to document the courtesy ride. Detectives didn’t learn about it until several days after Morris was declared a homicide victim on Dec. 25, 2002.

Computer-assisted dispatch records, also known as time-response logs, are public records under the state’s Right-to-Know Law.

Last year, PGN gave the D.A.’s Office a copy of the dispatch record it received from the PAC, and requested a copy of an unredacted dispatch record.

The six-page brief filed by the D.A.’s Office on May 5 contends the agency “acted in accordance with its obligations under the law” when denying the request.

PGN disputes that contention, noting the agency failed to cite legal authority for denying the request — even though the RTKL requires that it do so.

Additionally, it remains unclear whether the D.A.’s Office searched for the requested record in the appropriate file.

Homicide records are routinely filed under the victim’s legal name, and Morris’ legal name was Robert G. Morris.

But the attestation gives no indication that a search was done under that name.

In 2009, the D.A.’s Office claimed the requested dispatch record, if it were located, would be exempt from disclosure because it’s related to an ongoing homicide investigation.

In the current litigation, the agency hasn’t stated whether it continues to hold that position.

The matter remains pending before Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Nina Wright Padilla.

Oral arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. June 2 in City Hall Courtroom 426.

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