Autumn Steele public records hearing postponed

Case hinges on whether body camera video should be released

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A contested case hearing over whether Iowa law enforcement agencies broke public records law by refusing to release information about a 2015 fatal shooting by police has been postponed until August.

The family of Autumn Steele, a 34-year-old Burlington mother fatally shot by Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill on Jan. 6, 2015, requested video and other records about the shooting. Hill had responded to a domestic disturbance call at Steele’s house, where, in the front yard, her dog charged at Hill, causing him to fire his gun and accidentally hit Steele.

Burlington police and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have released only 12 seconds of Hill’s body camera recording and refused requests from the family and the Burlington Hawk-Eye newspaper for additional records even though the case is closed.

During an Aug. 29 hearing in Des Moines, Administrative Law Judge Karen Doland is to hear from the law enforcement agencies and from the Iowa Public Information Board, which alleges the agencies broke Iowa Code Chapter 22. The hearing had been scheduled for April 19, but was postponed, Interim Board Executive Director Margaret Johnson said.

The hearing is expected to last one day. Doland later would submit written findings to the board, which can accept or reject them. The board has authority to levy civil penalties of up to $2,500 for a knowing violation and force agencies to make records public. Decisions can be appealed to District Court.

The Steele case highlights the uncertainty of whether the public should have access to body camera video. 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. Police argue body cameras can show citizens in private, often difficult moments and the videos shouldn’t always be public.

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