Public Safety

Autumn Steele's family files federal lawsuit

Police recklessness, inadequate training cited in wrongful death of Burlington woman, according to suit

A memorial stands outside the former home of Autumn Steele, a woman shot and killed by an Iowa police officer, in Burlin
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. (Photo: Daniel Acker for the Washington Post)

The family of a Burlington woman shot by police in 2015 has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court.

Gabriel Steele, husband of Autumn Steele, filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa along with Gina Colbert, Autumn Steele’s mother, and Sean Schoff, listed as a friend of the Steeles’ two young sons.

The suit claims Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill fired his gun in an “unreasonable, unnecessary and reckless manner,” on Jan. 6, 2015, striking and killing Autumn Steele in her front yard. The family asserts the Burlington Police Department did not properly train Hill or provide supervision in the use of deadly force.

Hill, responding to a domestic abuse call to the Steeles’ house, found the couple in a verbal argument in the front yard. Gabriel Steele was holding their three-year-old son at the time, the lawsuit states. Police have said the Steeles’ dog, Sammy, attacked Hill, which caused him to accidentally shoot Autumn Steele.

“As Hill was firing the first shot, he lost his balance and fell backward but continued to discharge his service weapon,” the lawsuit states.

No criminal charges were filed against Hill and he returned to work.

The Burlington Police and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation so far have released only 12 seconds of Hill’s body camera recording — despite requests from the family to see the full investigative file in the closed case.

The Iowa Public Information Board decided last month to charge law enforcement agencies with violating Iowa’s public records laws for not releasing more information about Steele’s death. The board voted 5-to-3 to file orders alleging probable cause the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Burlington police and the Des Moines County Attorney’s Office broke the law by withholding investigative reports, body camera video and 911 calls.

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