Public Safety

Burlington police issue statement before releasing records in fatal police shooting

BURLINGTON — Police here have issued a statement in support of Officer Jesse Hill and the department’s handling of the investigation into a 2015 fatal police shooting, in response to a federal judge’s ruling that soon will make public previously undisclosed records in the case.

Police Chief Dennis Kramer on Monday described the Jan. 6, 2015, fatal shooting of Autumn Steele by Hill as “an accident caused by a series of unfortunate events.”

Kramer told the Burlington newspaper the timing of the statement’s release reflects U.S. District Judge James Gritzner’s Aug. 14 ruling that gave the city a timeline to redact personal identifiers from court documents in order to ready body camera videos, Hill’s medical records and investigative files for release.

“The City and the Burlington Police Department believe it is important to provide context for understanding the video and other materials,” the statement reads.

According to the statement, Hill responded to the Steele’s Burlington home because of a domestic disturbance, in which “Officer Hill observed Ms. Steele slapping and punching her spouse while he was holding their child.”

It says the family’s German shepherd “attacked” Hill twice, leading him to fire his gun in self-defense. In doing so, “he unexpectedly slipped on a patch of ice and fell backwards,” resulting in a misfire that struck Steele.

“Officer Hill was deeply distressed, as any human being would be in those terrible circumstances, and his comments on the video must be viewed with that in mind,” the statement reads.

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From there, Burlington defends its position in keeping “peace officers’ investigative reports, such as the body camera video in this case,” out of the public eye.

Throughout the multiyear battle waged by The Hawk Eye and the Steele family to release more information about the shooting, the city’s attorneys have “resisted the public disclosure of this video and the other records to be released” because such videos and records “are legally considered ‘confidential’ under Iowa law,” the statement said.

Judge Gritzner, however, disagreed, opening the way for the release of records.

The statement concludes: “The City of Burlington and the Burlington Police Department’s legal position in this case was never intended to offend the Steele family. Rather, the City and the Department continue to express their deepest sympathy to Ms. Steele’s family for their loss.”

The city is paying the Steele family — her husband, two sons and her mother — $2 million in settlement of a lawsuit against the city and Hill, who remains on the force.

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