DES MOINES, Iowa — An attorney for the family of a woman mistakenly killed by an Iowa police officer lashed out Thursday at the Iowa Public Information Board for what he called “unconscionable” delays and errors in her case.
Adam Klein, an attorney for Autumn Steele’s family, accused board members of mishandling complaints alleging that police have illegally withheld public records in her January 2015 shooting. Klein said they were hurting a grieving family.
Unbowed by the criticism, the board voted to delay the case further and rehear the merits of it — which it had already decided 10 months ago.
That takes the case back to the beginning of the process, 20 months after the 34-year-old mother was shot and killed by a Burlington officer who was intending to fire at her attacking dog.
Authorities have released a brief body camera clip of the shooting and a summary of the incident, but have rejected requests for additional records. They say the records are shielded because they are part of a peace officer’s investigative report, which can be kept secret under the Iowa open records law. The officer wasn’t charged.
Klein and the editor of The Hawk Eye newspaper in Burlington filed complaints seeking the release of more information. The case has been watched closely because it’s among the first pursued by the three-year-old board, which was created to enforce the open meetings and records laws.
After a lengthy review, the board concluded that records had been illegally withheld and voted 4-3 in December 2015 to bring enforcement actions against the Division of Criminal Investigation, Burlington Police Department and Des Moines County Attorney’s office. The board’s staff had twice recommended dismissing the complaints.
If successful, the enforcement actions could result in the release of transcripts of 911 calls, body camera videos taken by officers and emails, and potential fines against the agencies.
Earlier this month, an administrative law judge dismissed complaints against DCI and Burlington police on procedural grounds, saying the board erroneously failed to file a written order finding probable cause for the violations. That ruling came after the board-appointed prosecutor sat on the case for months without action before recusing himself due to a conflict, Klein said.
At Thursday’s meeting, the board considered whether to refile the complaints with the appropriate order and send them back to the administrative law judge. But instead, new board members said they wanted time to reconsider the merits of the complaints and whether they should have been pursued in the first place. That process is expected to begin in coming weeks and will rehash legal arguments that played out for months last year.
That decision drew the ire of Klein, who challenged board members to explain to Steele’s mother, husband and children why they have to endure further delay.
“You cannot put this family through this any longer. It is unconscionable,” he said.