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BPD, DMC Attorney Formally Charged with Not Providing Public Records

It will be up to a judge to decide whether government and law enforcement agencies in Des Moines County violated Iowa’s open records law during an investigation into the shooting death of a Burlington woman last year.

Special Prosecutor Mark McCormick filed a petition with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals on May 27. He did so on behalf of the Iowa Public Information Board.

In his petition, McCormick charges the Burlington Police Department, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers with failing to provide open records.

The information requests surround an incident that occurred in January 2015 when Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill responded to a call for a domestic dispute at Autumn Steele’s home. When he arrived, he approached Steele and her husband before being confronted by a dog.

Hill pulled his weapon. At some point, he lost his balance and fell to the ground, during which he fired several times, striking and killing Autumn Steele.

Hill was not charged with any crime related to the shooting. He eventually returned to his job with the Burlington Police Department.

During the investigation, the attorney for Steele’s family and the Burlington Hawkeye newspaper requested all public records related to the case, including investigative reports.

According to McCormick’s petition, “certain documents were provided to [the attorney and the newspaper], but other documents were withheld.”

As a result, the newspaper and the family attorney appealed to the Iowa Public Information Board. That’s why the board appointed McCormick to investigate.

From his petition:

“[Beavers] responded that she had returned the DCI case file to the DCI. The record establishes, however, that she had those documents in her possession on the date she received complainants’ requests for their disclosure, but withheld them from disclosure when they should have been produced in response to the request. The Burlington Police Department and DCI have withheld records covered by the request on the ground that they are confidential as police investigate reports within the meaning of Iowa Code 227.7(5).”

Charlie Smithson with the Iowa Public Information Board said this petition is the first step to get a hearing before an administrative law judge. He said a date and time for the hearing have yet to be set.

The petition states that if the Burlington Police Department, Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers, or the DCI are found guilty of violating Iowa Code 22.2, they could be fined up to $500. If found guilty of knowingly violating the law, the fines could increase up to $2,500.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.