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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Family Questions Police Investigation in Death of Nizah Morris

[PHILADELPHIA, PA] - Slain trans woman Nizah Morris was transported three blocks by a Philadelphia police officer about 20 minutes before her injured body was discovered by a passing motorist at 16th and Walnut streets, police say.

Morris, who reportedly had passed out in front of Key West Bar, 207 S. Juniper St., declined to be transported to a hospital, but instead was given a ride by a Philadelphia police officer to 15th and Walnut streets, said Homicide Captain Charles Bloom.

Her body was discovered by a passing motorist 20 minutes later, about 3:35 a.m. Dec. 22. She died two days later at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Bloom said.

The West Philadelphia resident attended a party at Key West prior to being transported from the bar by police, said her sister, Andrea Dhunna, a former Philadelphia police officer.

Ninth District Officer Thomas Berry arrived at 16th and Walnut streets after Morris was injured, and allegedly treated the matter as an accident. He could not be interviewed for this story.

"Because there's an open investigation being conducted by the homicide unit, we would not allow Officer Berry to be interviewed until the investigation was completed, and the case was eventually solved," said Inspector William Colarulo, a police spokesman.

Colarulo said the name of the officer who transported Morris from Juniper and Chancellor streets to 15th and Walnut streets also could not be released, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Morris' relatives say they are suspicious of this ride. They don't understand why it was provided, and they hold police responsible for Morris' death.

"If Nizah wasn't under arrest, or wasn't doing anything wrong, why would a police officer take her anywhere in a police car?" asked her mother, Roslyn Wilkins. "They're not taxi cabs."

Wilkins says she believes police caused the injury to Morris' head - she suffered a single blow to the side of her head, which fractured her skull - either deliberately or accidentally during a struggle with her daughter.

She said Morris suffered defensive wounds on her hands.

"I can't let this rest," Wilkins told PGN Jan. 8. "We need closure. Nizah wasn't afraid of anything except the police. She wouldn't have gotten inside of that police car willingly."

Bloom said investigators are willing to consider the concerns of Morris' relatives, but he stressed that no police officer is a suspect in the case.

"There are some legitimate questions being asked by the family," Bloom told PGN Jan. 8. "Anytime we have any suspicious death, we never rule anything out. But I want to make it very clear that we're not looking at a police officer as a suspect in anything. We're just looking at the whole job, and we're going to get to the bottom of it."

Dhunna said more than 300 people attended Morris' funeral on New Year's Day.

"Everyone loved her, she was a beautiful person, always laughing," Dhunna said. "We're going to leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of this. I've been robbed of my sister."

Morris, a devout Buddhist, was noted for her generosity, and served as a mentor for many younger members of the transgender community, Dhunna added.

She overcame dyslexia, and secured various types of employment, including as a teacher's aide, a child-care assistant, a maid, an entertainer, and an AIDS educator, Dhunna said.

A talented singer and dancer, Morris also received several entertainment awards, including awards from Key West Bar and Bob and Barbara's Lounge, Dhunna said.

Friends also praised Morris' attributes.

"Nizah was a sweetheart; she was beautiful, inside and out," said Lisa Thompson, a close friend.

"Nizah was always a lady - very dignified and classy," added Frank Galoardi, manager of Bob and Barbara's Lounge, where Morris worked as an entertainer. "Everything about her was appropriate - the way she talked, carried herself."

A few days before she died, Morris gave Christmas cards to all staffers at the club.

"We deeply regret her loss, and extend much sympathy to her family and friends," Galoardi said.

A memorial tribute is scheduled for 10 p.m. Jan. 14 at Bob and Barbara's, 1509 South St. Proceeds from the event will be used for expenses incurred by relatives to investigate Morris' death, Dhunna said.

Bloom asked anyone with information about Morris' death to contact the Homicide Division at or .

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