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Wrongful Death Lawsuit Settled for $2 Million; City of Burlington Not Commenting

The family of Autumn Steele this week announced that it had settled a wrongful death lawsuit it filed in November 2016 against the city of Burlington and Burlington police officer Jesse Hill for $2 million. The city, in response, said it would not comment on the settlement until the court approves it.

On January 6, 2015, Hill responded to a domestic dispute report involving Steele and her husband at their home in Burlington. Autumn Steele had been released from jail earlier that day and was told by a judge to not return to their home without a police escort due to a restraining order against her.

Hill was wearing a body camera at the time. It was turned on when he arrived at the scene.

A roughly 12-second video released by the Burlington Police Department showed Hill approaching the couple. Autumn Steele can be heard saying “He’s got my kid.” Hill then tells the couple to get their dog, which can be heard in the background.

Hill then, after apparently being attacked by the dog, fires two shots as he falls to the ground. One of the bullets struck and killed Steele. 

Hill was not charged in the shooting. Law enforcement has not released the rest of the body camera video.

The plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit were Steele’s mother, Steele’s husband, and Steele’s two young children. The lawsuit claims that Hill used excessive force and was negligent for firing in the direction of Steele. It also said the city did not properly train Hill to handle this type of situation.

In announcing the settlement, Steele’s mother, Gina Colbert, said the family is relieved to have the matter resolved.

“The dollar amount is recognition by the city of Burlington and Officer Jesse Hill that Hill acted in a wrongful and unjustified manner in shooting and killing my beautiful daughter,” said Colbert.

The attorney for the family, Dave O’Brien, said the settlement speaks volumes in this case.

“Everyone should know that cities and their insurance carriers do not pay $2 million to settle a claim unless they have conclude the claim has significant merit,” said O’Brien. “Make no mistake about it, this settlement vindicates the Steele family’s claim that Hill acted wrongfully in causing Autumn’s death.”

Autumn Steele’s husband, Gabe Steele, said nothing makes up for losing the love of your life.

“We made the effort to pursue this claim to demand accountability and to help make sure no other family has to go through what we went through as a result of wrongful and reckless conduct by a sworn law enforcement officer,” said Gabe Steele.

The family said it also sought to have Hill’s body camera video released as part of the settlement but that the city refused.

The city of Burlington issued a statement about six hours after the Steele family announced the settlement amount.

The city said it would not comment on the settlement because it had not yet been approved by the court. And it would not comment on the release of the body camera footage because theIowa Public Information Board has yet to act on two requests to release the footage.

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