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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Iowa Public Information Board, which pledged to try to broker a compromise between law enforcement and the family of a Burlington woman shot and killed by an officer, may dismiss the family's complaint after government agencies refused to release more information.
Board staff issued a report Tuesday saying the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and Burlington Police Department did not break Iowa's Open Records law by refusing to release records about the Jan. 6 shooting of Autumn Steele. Burlington Officer Jesse Hill accidentally killed Steele when he was trying to shoot her attacking dog, authorities said.
Steele's family and the Burlington Hawk Eye newspaper filed complaints with the board seeking additional documents, including a complete video of the shooting captured on a police body camera.
The board voted 5-3 in September to accept the complaints and work for an informal resolution between law enforcement, family members and the newspaper. But the attempts broke down, said Michael Giudicessi, a Des Moines attorney representing the Hawk Eye.
'The board staff made inquiries to the paper and all the records custodians and floated a settlement framework that the government representatives quickly rejected,' Giudicessi said.
Board staff could have recommended filing civil charges against the law enforcement agencies, but instead opted for dismissal. The board will vote on the recommendation Thursday in Des Moines.
'What this really says is that if the board can't provide an informal resolution and is unwilling to prosecute, people with really important access issues shouldn't go to the board,' Giudicessi said.
Tuesday's report says the board did not find any evidence that law enforcement agencies failed to release 'date, time, specific location, and immediate facts and circumstances' of the Jan. 6 shooting.
'The position taken by respondents in denying release of the records sought is supported by case law and the interpretation of the Attorney General and the IPIB,' wrote Margaret Johnson, the board's deputy director.
Iowa Code Section 22.7(5) says: 'Peace officers' investigative reports, and specific portions of electronic mail and telephone billing records of law enforcement agencies if that information is part of an ongoing investigation, except where disclosure is authorized elsewhere in this Code' may be confidential.
Some courts have ruled the comma after 'investigation' indicates only electronic mail and telephone billing records could be made public after an investigation is closed.
Board staff and other open-government advocates have pushed to tweak the law to require agencies to release more records, but proposed changes did not pass the Iowa Legislature.
'The IPIB can continue to promote Iowa code section 22.7(5) to allow for greater transparency of law enforcement records, but until the legislature does this, or the Iowa Supreme Court overrules ACLU v. Atlantic Schools decision, there is no probable cause to go forward with a contested case filing,' Johnson wrote.
The board, which started accepting complaints in July 2013, successfully resolved 92 formal complaints and answered 788 informal inquiries in 2014. So far, the board has filed charges against only one person — fining former Washington County Attorney Larry Brock $1,000 in October 2014 for knowingly failing to turn over public records in a timely manner.