Public Safety

Open records case regarding Burlington police shooting heads into next year

Police appeal ruling to release Autumn Steele files

Autumn Steele, shown here with her sons, was fatally shot by a Burlington police officer Jan. 6, 2015. Her family and the Burlington Hawk Eye newspaper filed a complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board to get law enforcement agencies to release information about the now-closed investigation. The case still is in dispute. (Submitted photo)
Autumn Steele, shown here with her sons, was fatally shot by a Burlington police officer Jan. 6, 2015. Her family and the Burlington Hawk Eye newspaper filed a complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board to get law enforcement agencies to release information about the now-closed investigation. The case still is in dispute. (Submitted photo)
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The Iowa Public Information Board appears unlikely to issue a ruling until next year on an open records case involving the Burlington Police Department and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

On Nov. 2, the city of Burlington and the DCI appealed an administrative law judge’s opinion that the law enforcement agencies violated Iowa’s open records law when they failed to make public certain investigative files in the wake of the 2015 fatal shooting of Burlington resident Autumn Steele by a city police officer.

Steele was shot and killed outside her home by Officer Jesse Hill, who has said he accidentally shot her while trying to defend himself against the family’s dog.

Hill was not charged and remains on the police force.

The law enforcement agencies disagreed with the judge’s opinion that they violated the law, and appealed the proposed decision with the open records board.

According to board rules, attorneys’ briefs must be submitted within 20 days of the board receiving an appeal.

During the board’s last monthly meeting in Des Moines, Holly Corkery, an attorney for the city of Burlington who has worked on the Steele case since it first came before the board in 2015, requested an extension to the Nov. 22 deadline.

Jeffrey Peterzalek, an attorney for DCI, was not present at the meeting but favored an extension.

The board appeared amenable to the request, but asked they submit formal written notice by early next week.

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The board has the power to accept Administrative Law Judge Karen Doland’s proposed decision or allow the appeals to go forward, which likely would lead to oral arguments in the case.

Doland’s 24-page opinion said the decision by law enforcement to keep secret the 911 call, body camera and squad car dashboard camera videos generated that day violated a law that “makes clear that the ‘default’ position for a record in the government’s possession is that it is a public record.”

Attorneys representing Burlington and the DCI have argued over the past 3 1/2 years that the requested records were part of a “peace officer’s investigative report” and therefore protected in perpetuity from public view.

Doland isn’t the only judge to have sided against the law enforcement agencies this year.

In August, as part of the Steele family’s federal wrongful death lawsuit, U.S. District Judge James Gritzner ordered a portion of the investigative files be released, including body camera video from the responding officers, Hill’s medical records, depositions and interviews. Those files and video were released Sept. 12.

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