District Attorney to Investigate Morris Death
[PHILADELPHIA, PA] - The Philadelphia District Attorney?s Office has embarked on an investigation of the Nizah Morris case, and a report of its findings will be released to the public, District Attorney Lynne Abraham told PGN this week.
Morris, 47, a member of the transgender community, suffered a fatal head wound on Dec. 22, shortly after receiving a ?courtesy ride? from a Philadelphia police officer. She died Dec. 24.
"We?re going into this investigation with an open mind, and we?ll see how it all shakes out,? Abraham said. ?I?m going to go where the evidence takes me.?
She expressed concerned with ?looming questions? about the incident.
"I do want to make sure this investigation is conducted appropriately and promptly, so we can put the concerns and the apprehensions of the public at rest,? she said.
Homicide Chief Edward McCann of the District Attorney?s Office began overseeing the investigation on April 2. It is expected to last more than a month, Abraham said.
She said Philadelphia police officials, who also are investigating the homicide, have been informed of the probe.
Abraham had no criticism of the police, and said she expects police to cooperate with the new probe.
"The police will cooperate with us; it won?t be a problem,? she said.
Police Homicide Capt. Thomas Lippo could not be reached for comment.
In addition to interviewing all witnesses, detectives from the DA?s Office will seek physical evidence, including a 9-1-1 tape related to the incident, Abraham added.
"We?ll get to the bottom of it, and see what happened to this woman [Morris],? Abraham continued. ?I would ask anybody who has already been interviewed, to be aware that detectives from the DA?s Office will contact them ... We feel that people who have any information about this incident will come forward, freely and willingly.?
It remains unclear why 6th District Officer Elizabeth Skala transported Morris from Juniper and Chancellor streets to 15th and Walnut streets during the early morning hours of Dec. 22, 2002.
Morris lived on the 5000 block of Walnut Street.
Police say Morris was intoxicated and in need of assistance, yet asked to leave Skala?s patrol car at 15th and Walnut streets. However, witnesses who put Morris inside Skala?s patrol vehicle have noted that Morris could not stand without assistance, and believe she would not have been able to exit a vehicle and walk away under her own power.
In prior interviews, Lippo, of the police homicide unit, stated that Skala is not a suspect, yet he declined to disclose information such as the length of time that Skala spent with Morris, the route of the courtesy ride, and Skala?s statements on a 9-1-1 tape.
Relatives of Morris expressed gratitude when notified of Abraham?s investigation.
"I think it?s great that Lynne Abraham wants to look into it,? said Morris? mother, Roslyn Wilkins. ?I?m grateful for her interest. It?s very encouraging, but I do think it?s going to be an uphill battle. Something is dreadfully wrong with the picture we?ve been getting from police.?
Tamara Hopson, a community activist and friend of Morris, also commended Abraham.
"Many people remain extremely concerned about this matter, and I give Lynne Abraham kudos for taking this on, and doing the right thing,? Hopson said. ?I don?t always agree with her decisions, but I believe in giving credit where credit?s due.?
Stacey Sobel, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, which provides legal assistance to Morris? family, praised Abraham?s action.
"This is an important step forward in this case, not only for Nizah Morris? family, but for the community as a whole,? Sobel told PGN. ?We?re very pleased that the district attorney has taken an interest in this case. We look forward to hearing from [the] DA?s office, and finding out the results of their investigation."