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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Civil liberties groups in Iowa and other states support police use of body cameras because of a perception the videos would increase accountability for law enforcement and the public.
But a case to be heard Thursday by the Iowa Public Information Board questions whether the public will see police body camera videos only when they absolve officers or show them doing good deeds.
'Recordings by the Iowa State Patrol and local police departments are routinely made and released, apparently without reservation when dissemination serves to promote the public image of law enforcement, to publicize the meritorious service of police officers, or to rebut charges of discrimination or official misconduct,” wrote Michael Giudicessi, a Des Moines lawyer, in a brief supporting the Burlington Hawk Eye's quest for information on a police shooting there.
At dispute is whether the Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation must release a body camera video from Jan. 6 when Burlington Officer Jesse Hill accidentally shot and killed Autumn Steele when he was trying to shoot her attacking dog.
The DCI has released a 12-second excerpt it asserts covers the shooting. But Steele's family and the Hawk Eye have filed separate complaints with the board to get more information.
Attorneys for the state argue the video is exempt from Iowa's public records law because it's part of an investigative file - even though the investigation is closed.
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 kept confidential.
Some courts have ruled the comma after 'investigation” indicates only electronic mail and telephone billing records could be made public after the closure of an investigation.
Attorneys for Steele's family say the board has the power to perform a balancing test to see whether the public benefit of releasing the video would outweigh the privacy concerns.
'This board's hands are not tied,” wrote Adam Klein, an Atlanta, Ga., attorney representing the family.
The Hawk Eye says the whole video should be made public because of increased concern nationwide about officer-involved shootings. The newspaper points out several cases in which the Iowa DPS released videos that cast officers in a positive light.
'In May 2015, the Iowa Highway Patrol released dash camera video of a state trooper's valiant effort to administer CPR to a motorist to the news media and entertainment programs such as Inside Edition without concern about possible public records law confidentiality exemptions for medical information or police officer's investigative reports,” Giudicessi wrote.
As for body camera video, University of Iowa police gave the media unedited body camera videos relating to the Dec. 5 removal of public art that depicted a Ku Klux Klan robe and a subsequent student confrontation, the brief states.
The nine-member Public Information Board may dismiss the complaints or accept them, which would direct its staff to work with the parties to resolve the matter. Executive Director Charlie Smithson said Monday.
Smithson issued a preliminary order in July saying the investigative materials would fall into exclusions allowed by Iowa's Open Records law. But the board wanted more information before voting on the complaints.
The board, which meets at 1 p.m. Thursday in Des Moines, has the authority to issue civil fines of up to $2,500.