Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation won't make public records about Autumn Steele's death

Delay in public records case over Burlington fatal police shooting

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A judge again has postponed a contested case alleging the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and Burlington Police Department broke Iowa’s public records law by not releasing records about a 2015 fatal police shooting.

The law enforcement agencies have refused to release records, including the complete body camera video, from the Jan. 6, 2015, incident in which Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill accidentally shot and killed Autumn Steele, 34, of Burlington, when he responded to a family dispute in Steele’s yard.

Steele’s family and the Burlington Hawk Eye Newspaper filed complaints with the Iowa Public Information Board to get access to records about the closed case. The board decided last fall to charge the agencies with breaking the law.

During a status conference Tuesday, Mark McCormick, serving as prosecutor for the board, asked Administrative Law Judge Karen Doland to postpone the conference until Sept. 29 to give the board time to decide whether it will proceed with the contested case against the law enforcement agencies.

The board is scheduled to meet Sept. 21 in Des Moines.

Seven of the board’s nine members met in closed session Friday to discuss the case. When they emerged, the group voted unanimously to proceed in accordance with what they had discussed behind closed doors. The move was criticized by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council as not transparent and a possible violation of Iowa’s open meetings law.

The board, created in 2012, has authority to levy civil penalties of up to $2,500 for a knowing violation of public records or public meetings laws. The Burlington case could have major implications for the public’s access to records about closed cases in Iowa. But at a time when the board’s budget has been downsized, there may be some concern about paying outside legal counsel for a protracted legal battle.

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