Sunday, November 27, 2016

Philadelphia Gay News seeks records in unsolved trans murder

by Joe Siegel

Philadelphia Gay News (PGN) has open-records requests pending with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office regarding the unsolved 2002 murder of Nizah Morris, an African-American trans woman found with a fatal head wound after accepting a ride from a police officer.

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

PGN currently has an open-records request with the District Attorney’s Office for a certified copy of its Morris 911 recordings. The paper contends the office hasn’t provided all responsive records in its possession.

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.

In May 2015, to reconcile the conflicting affidavits, PGN requested a certified copy of dispatch records 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.

Last June, Common Pleas Judge Linda A. 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 said it 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.

Earlier this month, the D.A.’s Office urged Commonwealth Court to decertify a computer-aided dispatch record associated with the Morris incident.

The computer-aided dispatch records request remains pending in Commonwealth Court, according to PGN reporter Tim Cweik.

IN THE NEWS
Volume 18
Issue 8

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