Judge Rejects Burlington Law Enforcement’s Argument in Autumn Steele Case

Officer Jesse Hill and Autumn Steele

A judge deciding the fate of records central to the death of Burlington resident Autumn Steele ruled against law enforcement in her latest decision, clearing the way for an evidentiary hearing to determine if police body camera and dashboard videos are open to public review.

Doland’s eight-page decision, obtained Wednesday by The Hawk Eye, summarized arguments by the agencies seeking to have the case dismissed: the Burlington Police Department and Iowa Department of Public Safety, Division of Criminal Investigation.

The two law enforcement agencies claimed in their motion for a summary judgment that police officers’ investigative reports, including body camera, dash board videos and 911 calls, are exempt from public release under Iowa’s open records law.

The issue in the case, Doland wrote, “is whether they have mischaracterized ‘public records’” under Iowa law.

“Burlington and DCI both assert that they have complied with Chapter 22 and that in fact the statute requires that they keep the documents in the ‘peace officers’ investigative report’ confidential,” the decision states. “Burlington asserts that Iowa law requires that peace officers’ reports shall be kept confidential, unless otherwise ordered by a court or the lawful custodian of the records. DCI asserts that the ‘records DCI has withheld from disclosure must be kept confidential, unless otherwise ordered by a court (or) by the lawful custodian of the records.’”

While there is “strong legal support” for the position that law enforcement officers’ investigative reports are confidential, Doland said in this case a clear definition of ‘peace officers’ investigative report’ has not been established.

Mark McCormick, an attorney hired by the Iowa Public Information Board to prosecute the case, has argued that 911 calls, body camera and dashboard videos are not part of law enforcement’s investigative report and that BPD and DCI do not have the right to determine that “everything accumulated in an investigation” becomes part of a secret file.

He has centered his case on the argument that the public has a right to know the details of what happened in the incident that left an unarmed, 34-year-old mother dead in her front yard in January 2015.

Jesse Hill, the Burlington police officer who accidentally shot Steele, was not charged with any wrongdoing and remains on the force.

“I am pleased that the judge has given us an opportunity for a hearing,” McCormick said Wednesday in a statement to The Hawk Eye. “The case involves issues requiring interpretation of the Iowa open records statue that have not been addressed in prior cases that need to be resolved not only for the parties in this case but also for parties in future cases.”

Ultimately, Doland decided, “There is not a case that definitively answers this question. The prosecutor is entitled to make a record in this case and have the issue decided.”

A date for the evidentiary hearing has not been announced.

Following the hearing, Doland will send her written findings of fact to the IPIB. The board then can reject her findings and dismiss the case, or order some or all of the requested records be released to the public.

“I hope this means the people of Iowa and Autumn Steele’s family are closer to obtaining access to the full video of the tragedy,” said Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. “Transparency in the fatal shooting of an unarmed mother should not be the subject of such prolonged controversy. The requests by the Burlington newspaper and Steele’s relatives are not unreasonable.”

Source: http://www.thehawkeye.com/news/20171206/judge-rejects-law-enforcements-argument-in-autumn-steele-case

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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