Public Safety

Iowa Public Information Board refiles body camera charges

Board alleges Iowa DCI and Burlington Police violated open records law by withholding records in a closed investigation

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. (Photo: Daniel Acker for the Washington Post)
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. (Photo: Daniel Acker for the Washington Post)

The Iowa Public Information Board will charge the state Division of Criminal Investigation with violating Iowa’s public records law by not releasing the full body camera video showing a fatal shooting in Burlington.

The board voted 5-to-3 Thursday to file orders alleging probable cause the DCI, Burlington Police Department and the Des Moines County Attorney’s Office broke the law by withholding investigative reports, body camera video and 911 calls.

“The people of Iowa should be pleased with the board’s decision to move forward again with charges,” said Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

“The FOI Council believes that the open records law, principles of good government and common sense all require that the public be able to judge for themselves whether the police officer’s actions were appropriate or whether he acted with reckless disregard for the safety of Autumn Steele.”

Steele’s family and the Burlington Hawk Eye newspaper are seeking information about her death Jan. 6, 2015.

Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill, called to Steele’s house on a domestic abuse call, said he slipped in the snow while trying to shoot Steele’s attacking dog and accidentally shot the 34-year-old mother in her front yard. Police have released 12 seconds of wobbly video, but nothing else.

The board first voted to file charges last December, but an administrative law judge last month dismissed the charges against the police and DCI, saying the board had not filed written probable cause orders.

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The board rectified that Thursday. Members voting for the charges were Tony Gaughan, Jo Martin, William Peard, Suzan Stewart and Mary Ungs-Sogaard. Keith Luchtel, Andy McKean and Renee Twedt voted against issuing the orders. Gary Mohr was not present.

There was no discussion before the votes, which happened via conference call.

The Steele case is significant because it deals with whether the public should have access to body camera video in closed investigations. Many Iowa police agencies have touted the accountability that comes with body cameras, but some critics say police only release video when it makes them look good.

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