Public Safety

Federal judge lets Iowa watchdog intervene in wrongful death lawsuit

A federal judge in a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Burlington granted a request by an Iowa watchdog group to intervene in the case.

U.S. Senior Judge James Gritzner on Friday granted the request to intervene by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, but has deferred the watchdog group’s request to unseal police body camera footage and court documents and evidence introduced in the wrongful death of Autumn Steele, 34, of Burlington. The video and documents had been filed under seal in the wrongful death lawsuit.

Steele was mistakenly shot and killed in January 2015 by Burlington police officer Jesse Hill who said he perceived a threat from the family’s dog while responding to a domestic disturbance.

The city of Burlington had opposed the request by the FOI Council to intervene, while Steele’s family has not.

Gritzner will wait one week to see if any other groups now seek to intervene before additional proceedings, the ruling states.

Following Steele’s death, her family and Burlington Hawk Eye filed separate complaints with the Iowa Public Information Board requesting police body camera videos, squad car dashboard camera videos, 911 calls and investigative files.

However, Burlington police and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have denied the requests to release information, saying the materials were investigative files that did not have to be released to the public.

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Despite the tentative settlement, the Steele family has continued to pursue, along with the Hawk Eye, the release of those documents through the IPIB.

A hearing on the IPIB complaints is scheduled for July 20 before Administrative Law Judge Karen Doland. She will turn over her findings to the nine-member IPIB for a final decision.

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