Author: Sean Curtis
BURLINGTON, Iowa — A city in southeastern Iowa has agreed to pay $2 million to the family of a woman who was mistakenly killed by a police officer.
An attorney for the estate of Autumn Steele announced the dollar figure of the settlement with the city of Burlington on Monday. A federal court was notified this month that the settlement was reached in the wrongful death lawsuit. The deal is still being finalized.
The settlement doesn’t include the release of additional video of the incident, which the family sought.
“We certainly hope it gets released,” said Dave O’Brien, the lead attorney for the Steele estate. “We think it should be part of the public record. We don’t think cities should be allowed to keep stuff confidential because they find it embarrassing.”
Officer Jesse Hill fatally shot Steele while responding to a call about a domestic dispute between her and her husband outside of their home in January of 2015.
Hill said he opened fire to protect himself from an attacking family dog. Police released a short segment of body camera video that shows Hill fire his service weapon after a dog is seen jumping and growling. Hill mistakenly shot Steele in the chest and killed her as one of her two young sons was feet away.
O’Brien argued in court last month that the full video gives no indication that Hill had been bitten or injured before he opened fire, as he claimed in his police report. The lawsuit alleged that Hill acted recklessly when he killed Steele and that he tried to cover it up by falsely claiming that he was trying to defend himself from an attacking dog.
Attorneys for the city and Hill did not immediately reply to requests for comment. Hill faced no criminal charges or discipline for the shooting.
The video, and other records associated with the case, are being sought by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which filed a request with the federal court to participate in the case. The Associated Press is a member of the council.
Randy Evans, the council’s executive director, said many of the filings in the case have been shielded from public scrutiny. A case before the Iowa Public Information Board, filed separately by the family and the Burlington Hawk Eye newspaper, also seeks the release of the video as a public record.
“We believe that the public deserves to be able to see what has occurred and what was being argued by the city and the family,” Evans said.