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Unsealed Records Provide More Details About 2015 Officer-Involved Shooting in Burlington

Sep 14, 2018

A federal judge ordered the unsealing of documents related to the shooting death of Autumn Steele by Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill. That is shining more light on what transpired at the scene of the shooting.

The unsealed documents are primarily legal in nature: Motions for Summary Judgment, Statements of Undisputed Material Facts, and Responses/Resistances to various motions. They were part of a federal lawsuit filed by Steele’s family against the city of Burlington and Hill.

The court unsealed roughly two dozen documents, with a total page count exceeding 600. The documents contain a wide range of information: deposition testimony, police reports, transcribed notes from body camera footage, and training manuals.

The city agreed to pay $2 million to settle the lawsuit. After the settlement was announced, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council’s request to have the court records unsealed was granted.

Jan. 6, 2015

Officer Hill responded to a domestic disturbance call at the home of Autumn and Gabriel Steele at about 10:28 a.m. As Hill arrived, he saw the two in a verbal argument and a physical altercation. Gabriel was holding their child at the time.

Hill called dispatch, exited his squad car, and turned on his body camera. He ran toward the couple and attempted to separate them. Within a few seconds, the family dog, a collie/German Shepard mix  moved toward Hill.

Hill told the couple to get their dog before he pulled out his gun and fired two shots. During that process, Hill lost his balance and fell back as he fired. One of the bullets struck and killed Steele.

That all occurred within about 12 seconds. It was the only 12 seconds of Hill’s body camera footage released until this week. 

New Information

The unsealed body camera footage shows Gabriel Steele asking Hill if he just shot his wife.

“Did I?” asked Hill. “Oh my God.”

Hill reported the shots fired to dispatch. He then turned his attention to Autumn Steele, asking her repeatedly where she had been shot, with no response.

Officer Tim Merryman arrived at the scene roughly a minute after Hill. He got out of his car and approached Hill.

“S***, Tim,” said Hill. “I’m f***ing going to prison, Tim. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”

Merryman said to Hill that it was an accident, to which Hill responded, “It was.”

Hill said the family dog attacked him.

“I pulled… shot the dog and I, f***, I think I hit her,” said Hill. “I don’t know where though.”

Steele was loaded into an ambulance and Hill was eventually told to wait in his car.

Hill’s report

Below is an excerpt from the report Hill wrote up following the shooting.

“I heard the dog growl and immediately I felt the sensation of being bit on my upper left thigh area. Immediately, I broke contact with Autumn and advised the owners to get their dog and began to back pedal to the north away from the dog. The dog began advancing toward me with its teeth showing and I drew my duty weapon and pointed at a downward angle toward the dog and fired a shot. During my back pedal, I lost my balance on the downward angled, snow-covered sidewalk and began falling towards Market Street. Before hitting the ground, my body was positioned slightly lower than 45 degrees when another shot was fired at the dog, which I observed to still be advancing toward me at my feet.”

“After the second shot, the dog fled from my area and I observed Autumn falling into the fence and toward the ground. I left my gun on the ground and I put over dispatch that shots were fired. I proceeded to Autumn’s location to check and see if she was injured. I asked if she was hurt and I did not get a response back. I put out over the radio to dispatch an ambulance to my location. During that time, officer Merryman arrived on scene and I advised him of what transpired. We continued trying to get a verbal response from Autum, but were unsuccessful. Officer Merryman and I turned Autumn over on her back and I opened her shirt to check her to see where she may have been injured and I was unable to locate where she may have been injured. I put on my latex gloves and began CPR chest compressions on Autumn. I observed Autumn taking a breath during my chest compressions and moments later, Officer Merryman requested to take over the CPR and I advised him he could.”

Documents

The unsealed court records also included testimony from several witnesses, with an emphasis on their view of how close the family dog was to Hill and whether it was threatening him.

One witness said it looked like the dog was trying to play while another said it looked like a dog jumping on somebody to greet them.

There is a portion of Hill’s deposition from Aug. 2, 2017, in which an attorney for Autumn Steele’s family asked him : “What could you have done differently to avoid the tragic death of Autumn Steele?”

Hill replied: “I don’t think I could have done anything differently. Under the circumstances, I did what I felt was reasonable at the time.”

Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers determined in Feb. 2015 that Hill’s actions were reasonable and that criminal charges would not be filed.

The newly unsealed documents also include a transcript from an interview in which Hill said he is leery of other people’s animals, and examples of how Burlington police officers are trained to handle animals while in the field.

The documents are available below:

Document A, Document B, Document C, Document D, Document E, Document F, Document G, Document H, Document I, Document J, Document K, Document L, Document M, Document N, Document O, Document P, Document Q, Document R, Document S, Document T, Document U, Document V, Document W