Philadelphia Gay News
DA to Investigate Morris Death
By Timothy Cwiek
PGN Contributing Writer
© 2003 Timothy Cwiek
April 6, 2003
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
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.
“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
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.
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
“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
“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.”
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
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
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.
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
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.”
Philadelphia Gay News
© 2003 Philadelphia Gay News
Finally, an outside force will investigate
the troubling death of Nizah Morris.
Lynne Abraham told PGN April 2 her office is investigating the Morris case. In
addition, Abraham pledged to make public the results of her
Abraham’s announcement offers hope to a
community witnessing the police department’s increasingly outrageous handling of
Morris, a West Philadelphia trans woman, was
found unconscious early Dec. 22 at 16th and Walnut streets shortly after being
given a “courtesy ride” by a Philadelphia police officer. Another officer had
found her on the street, minutes after she was dropped off. She would die two
days later from a head wound. But neither officer filed paperwork about the
incident, police say.
Since her death, police officials
have said many confusing and conflicting things in the
They have offered different chronologies of police
involvement with Morris. There has been missing or non-existent paperwork. And
despite the Medical Examiner’s Office determination that Morris’ death was,
indeed, a homicide, the police did not treat it as such until five weeks after
As such, many community members have been left
to conclude the police involved in the Nizah Morris homicide are either
incompetent, involved in a cover-up of some sort - or
But now Abraham’s investigators will, to a certain
extent, investigate the investigators. With this probe, perhaps witnesses or
community members with information or suggestions will come forward. Perhaps a
detail which eluded the police will stand out for the DA’s detectives. Perhaps,
three months later, the District Attorney’s Office will be able to determine the
circumstances of Nizah Morris’s death and if someone is responsible for