Judge says city broke records law in case

BURLINGTON (AP) — The city of Burlington and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation broke a state law by refusing to turn over all records after investigating a city police officer’s accidental fatal shooting of a woman, a judge said.

Administrative Law Judge Karen Doland said in a proposed decision she filed Monday with the Iowa Public Information Board that the public’s right to transparency should have outweighed officials’ desire for secrecy, The Hawk Eye reported.

“The open records law makes clear that the ‘default’ position for a record in the government’s possession is that it is a public record,” Doland said.

The newspaper and the family of Autumn Steele filed complaints with the board against the city and investigation division for withholding the records. She was fatally shot on Jan. 6, 2015, by an officer responding to a fight between Steele and her husband. Officer Jesse Hill said he tried to shoot the family’s growling dog as it attacked him but that he accidentally shot Steele instead. A prosecutor later determined the shooting was justified and didn’t charge Hill.

A federal judge already ordered the city to release body camera video from Hill and another officer, as well as other records the family sought in its wrongful death lawsuit against the city. The city settled the lawsuit for $2 million.

Doland advised the information board to accept her proposed order as final and to issue an order to the city and the state agency to release the records.

The board’s executive director, Margaret Johnson, said Friday that the board could modify the order or let it stand and see whether there’s an appeal. If it is appealed, the full board would hold further hearings before making its final decision, which could still be appealed to a district court.

The board likely won’t make any decision until next month at the earliest, Johnson said.

The attorney for the city, Holly Corkery, said city leaders are reviewing the judge’s opinion and their options but maintain the city has been following legal precedent.

A DCI spokesman didn’t immediately return a call Friday from The Associated Press.