Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers will soon find herself on the other side of a courtroom as the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is investigating whether she violated the state's open records law. The claim is in connection with the investigation into the shooting death of Autumn Steele in January 2015.
Steele was shot and killed by Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill after Hill responded to a domestic call at Steele’s home. As Hill approached Steele and her husband, the family dog charged him. Hill drew his weapon and as he was knocked to the ground, he fired it, striking Steele.
Shortly after making the announcement, Adam Klein, an attorney for Steele’s family, filed an open records request with Beaver’s office and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. Klein was seeking records related to the investigation into Steele’s death.
“The Des Moines County Attorney received the faxed and emailed request after business hours on Fri., Feb. 27, 2015. The mailed request was sent by certified mail, return receipt requested. The receipt indicates a deliver date/time of Tues., Mar. 3, 2015 at 9:55 a.m.,” according to a report from the IPIB. “The DCI file was sent by priority mail on Mar. 4, 2015 at 1:51 p.m.”
Klein eventually filed a complaint against Beavers with the IPIB in May 2015 after he did not receive the records he requested. The IPIB accepted the complaint in Sept. 2015. It voted last week to hold a “contested case” hearing regarding whether Beavers violated the open meetings law.
Charlie Smithson, IPIB Executive Director, said a special prosecutor will be brought in to handle the case.
“I hope to have that person appointed within the next week and then it will be up to that person to file all the appropriate paperwork to get this matter started,” said Smithson.
He said an administrative law judge will oversee the hearing and issue a ruling, which will be subsequently reviewed by the IPIB. He said the final decision can be appealed to district court.
Smithson said the matter at issue is whether Beavers was in possession of the records at the time of the request and whether she should have responded to the inquiry from the Steele family’s attorney. He said it appears the request arrived about one day before Beavers’ office mailed the records back to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
The IPIB drafted a resolution in an attempt to resolve the situation, but the two sides did not agree with it.
According to the board, “Klein was unwilling to agree to the proposed terms without a public acknowledgement of wrongdoing and a public apology from [Beavers]. The county attorney is willing to acknowledge that [she] was a lawful custodian of the records, but denies that the action of returning the records to DCI was malicious. She has completed new policies concerning record requests.”
A date has yet to be set for the hearing regarding Beavers. She faces a fine and other financial penalties if it is determined she violated the law.
Smithson said the special prosecutor will also handle additional hearings regarding similar requests for information related to the shooting.