Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nizah Morris Case-Ten Years Later

One of the cases I've been tracking ever since I started the blog is the Nizah Morris case. 

In the pre-dawn hours of December 22, 2002 she was at the downtown Key West bar at 13th and Walnut streets attending a party being held there.  She was allegedly severely inebriated and collapsed in front of the bar around 2:00 AM.  Someone called the paramedics to take her to the hospital   While waiting at least 20 minutes for the paramedics to arrive a Philadelphia police officer arrived at the scene. 

The 47 year old Morris declined the police officer's offer of a courtesy ride to take her to the hospital but instead asked to be taken home.  She was helped by bar patrons into the back of the police cruiser and unfortunately never made it there.

Instead she was found lying on her back at 16th and Walnut by a passing motorist unconscious with a fractured skull and bleeding from the right side of her head.  She had a life threatening subdural hematoma that required immediate medical attention and Morris was taken to Philadelphia's Jefferson University Hospital in critical condition.   She was on life support for several days until she was taken off of it and died at 8:30 PM EST on Christmas Eve.

The next day Morris' death was declared by the medical examiner as a homicide.   And you knew there had to be a little transphobia lurking in this story as well.   On December 26 Nizah's mother Roslyn Wilkins was notified of her daughter's death by a police detective who said to her, "He's dead"   

After Wilkins complained about the misgendering way he broke the news of her child's death to her, that detective was removed from the case.   The family was even more disturbed after looking at photos taken at the medical examiner's office that showed Morris with what appeared to be defensive wounds on her hands.
And yes, what would a story about a murdered African-American trans woman be without a heaping helping of media disrespect and misgendering?   When the Philadelphia Inquirer published their initial account of the morris story on December 31 they referred to Nizah as a 'prostitute' and stuck the misgendering 'male prostitute' in the body of the story. 

On January 1 after a memorial service attended by over 300 people Nizah Morris' body was cremated.      

That was ten years ago, and to this day the Morris family nor the Philadelphia trans community has gotten a consistent story from the PPD about what exactly happened to Nizah Morris on that fateful night.   It also hasn't helped that information, tapes and evidence pertaining to the case has mysteriously disappeared

The Morris family and others in the Philadelphia rainbow community suspect that excessive force was used on Morris, the PPD knows more about what happened on that fateful December 22 night than they are acknowledging and are covering up what really happened.

The three officers involved in the Morris incident, Thomas Berry, Elizabeth DiDonato and Kenneth Novak remain on the Philadelphia police force and were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in December 2003.

In the latest intrigue surrounding this case it seems the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office refuses to confirm or deny whether it has a police log pertaining to the Nizah Morris case, even though such logs are considered public records under Pennsylvania state law.

The case has been investigated by the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission for several years and neither the family or the Philadelphia LGBT community has gotten a satisfactory explanation of what happened.

The question i continue to ask in this case is the same as always.  What does the Philadelphia District Attorney's office and the Philadelphia PD know about what happened to Nizah Morris, when did they know it, and if the po-po's are involved, who did it? 

“Bring in the feds,” Wilkins said.  

I agree with the family in the call for federal authorities to get involved in this ongoing investigation.  It's sadly ten years later and we are still no closer to answering the simple question of what did happen to Nizah Morris in those predawn December 22 hours.

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