Hearing held in Morris case
by Timothy Cwiek
Jul 03, 2014 | 771 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A hearing was held last week on PGN’s request for a key document relating to the Nizah Morris case.

PGN is seeking a computer-assisted dispatch record of a vehicle stop initiated by Officer Elizabeth Skala in 2002.

Minutes before the vehicle stop, Skala reportedly gave Morris a three-block Center City “courtesy ride.”

Shortly after the ride, Morris was found by a passing motorist with blunt-force trauma to her head at 16th and Walnut streets.

The transwoman died two days later, on Dec. 24, 2002, and her homicide remains unsolved.

The dispatch record sought by PGN could help explain why Skala initiated an unrelated vehicle stop while her Morris assignment was still pending at the 911 call center.

The ensuing confusion contributed to police paperwork that made no mention of the courtesy ride nor Morris’ status as an assault victim.

Under the state’s Right-to-Know Law, computer-assisted dispatch records — also known as time-response logs — are public documents.

In 2007, the city’s Police Advisory Commission gave PGN a computer-assisted dispatch record for Skala’s vehicle stop that’s missing several lines of entries, and one of its entries has a redaction.

Last year, PGN requested from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office a complete version of the dispatch record.

Along with the request, the paper provided a copy of the incomplete dispatch record it received from the PAC.

In September, the D.A.’s Office supplied an attestation of non-existence, indicating it didn’t have the dispatch record requested by PGN.

PGN appealed in Common Pleas Court, on the basis that the attestation failed to specify the dispatch record the D.A.’s Office denies possessing.

At last week’s hearing, Assistant District Attorney Anne B. Taylor acknowledged the attestation referred solely to the incomplete dispatch record supplied by PGN.

Upon hearing this, Judge Nina Wright Padilla suggested that PGN file a new request, clarifying that it’s not seeking a copy of the incomplete dispatch record.

The paper filed a new request June 27, containing the clarification. At presstime, the D.A.’s Office hadn’t responded.

The D.A.’s Office has verified under penalty of perjury that PGN provided the office a “redacted” dispatch record. But it remains unclear how the office could do so, if it doesn’t have an unredacted dispatch record to compare against.

Padilla also must decide whether the state Office of Open Records issued a correct ruling in the matter.

In October, the OOR ruled that the D.A.’s Office met its burden of demonstrating that it doesn’t possess “computer-assisted dispatch records for a vehicle stop initiated by Officer Elizabeth Skala.”

However, the OOR apparently didn’t realize the attestation of non-existence supplied by the D.A.’s Office referred solely to the incomplete dispatch record provided by PGN.

Padilla said she will issue a ruling after reviewing numerous filings in the case.

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