Government

Another delay in Burlington public records case

Attorneys can't agree on common set of facts about 2015 shooting of Autumn Steele

(File photo) A memorial stands outside the former home of Autumn Steele, a woman shot and killed by an Iowa police officer, in Burlington, Iowa, in September 2015. (The Washington Post/photo by Daniel Acker)
(File photo) A memorial stands outside the former home of Autumn Steele, a woman shot and killed by an Iowa police officer, in Burlington, Iowa, in September 2015. (The Washington Post/photo by Daniel Acker)

A hearing over whether law enforcement agencies should have released more records about a 2015 fatal police shooting in Burlington has again been delayed.

During a conference call Wednesday, attorneys in the case disputed whether to use the word “report” when describing the records law enforcement agencies compiled about the Jan. 6, 2015, shooting of Autumn Steele, 34.

Jeff Peterzalek, an assistant Iowa Attorney General representing the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), wanted to include in a set of facts agreed to by both sides that peace officers completed a report about shooting. Mark McCormick, prosecuting the case on behalf of the Iowa Public Information Board, wouldn’t agree to the facts unless he could include an email Peterzalek sent saying the DCI does not make a report in this type of case.

This is a sticking point because the case against the DCI and Burlington Police Department may hinge on whether a judge decides the investigative records about Steele’s death are allowed to be kept confidential under an exemption to Iowa’s Open Records law.

“The word ‘report’ is not insignificant,” Administrative Law Judge Karen Doland said during the nearly hourlong call. “It sound to me like that might be an important definition in Chapter 22.”

Doland said she didn’t understand why the parties hadn’t ironed out their differences after a hearing last week, but she set June 28 as a tentative date for a contested case hearing.

Peterzalek complained Wednesday about how long the case has taken and said McCormick’s refusal to accept the stipulated facts was an “ambush” that would make the case unfair to law enforcement agencies.

Doland disagreed.

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“To the extent there have been delays I would attribute those to the respondents, not the prosecutor,” Doland said, indicating the various motions Peterzalek and Holly Corkery, attorney for the Burlington PD, have filed in the last two years.

On Jan. 6, 2015, Officer Jesse Hill responded to a domestic disturbance call at Steele’s house, where the family dog rushed him, board records state. Hill fired his weapon and accidentally hit Steele, killing her. No criminal charges were filed against Hill and he returned to work.

The Burlington Police and the DCI so far have released only 12 seconds of Hill’s body camera recording.

Steele’s family and the Burlington Hawk Eye newspaper filed complaints with the public information board to get the information.

The Steele case is significant because it deals with whether the public should have access to body camera video and other investigative materials in closed investigations. Many Iowa police agencies have touted the accountability that comes with body cameras, but some critics say police only release video when it makes them look good.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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