Burlington, IA -- On Thursday, during a federal court hearing in Davenport, Iowa, officials revealed that the confidential police video—a key piece of evidence in exonerating a cop who killed an innocent mom—does not corroborate the cop's claims that he was bitten by a dog before firing the fatal shots that accidentally killed the mother of two.
As TFTP previously reported, the Burlington police department released a 12-second clip from a Burlington Police officer's body cam showing him shooting and killing Autumn Steele.
The alleged dog bite is a key component in the case which allowed police officer Jesse Hill to be justified in firing the shots that killed Steele in January of 2015. According to the official story, the German shepherd jumped on Hill's back and bit his thigh, causing him injuries which required treatment.
The shooting was justified and Hill not disciplined, according to investigators, because Hill was in fear of his life during the dog attack and therefore did nothing wrong when he fired his weapon multiple times—and hitting Steele in her chest, killing her.
There is only one problem though, according to the family's attorney, the video does not show any of this. Police have refused to release the entire video which they say does show it. However, those who have seen the whole video, say it never shows any such bite. As the Des Moines Register reports:
In a separate legal battle, the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the Burlington Police Department have been charged with violating the state’s open records law for refusing to release the full video, saying it is part of an investigative record and is confidential.
The video was not played in open court Thursday. But Chief Judge James Gritzner of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa allowed attorneys in the case to describe pieces of the unreleased footage.
Not only does the unreleased video show no bite, but Hill never says that he had been bitten — a direct contrast to what he wrote later in his report, Dave O’Brien, a Cedar Rapids attorney who represents the Steele family, said during the hearing.
“This is a tragic case. This officer acted in a way that was entirely unreasonable,” O’Brien said in Thursday’s hearing.
The Steele family and the city of Burlington asked Judge Gritzner to consider these facts and issue a summary judgement in their favor which would decide the case without the need for a trial. However, the judge said he would issue his ruling at a later date.
The tragic incident unfolded that fateful January day as Gabriel Steele, Autumn's husband, was loading up their 4-year-old son, when Autumn began yelling at Gabriel and the police were called.
"He's got my kid!" yells Autumn.
Officer Hill was at the Steele residence acting as an escort in their domestic dispute incident. During this commotion, the couple's dog came running out of the house.
"Hey, hey, quit fighting, stop it," says Hill.
In the video, we can hear the dog growl, at which point Hill says, "Get your dog." Only moments later, Hill fired off two rounds.
However, one of the shots struck and killed Autumn Steele.
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The dog was not hit, nor did it have to be shot for Hill to "make it home to his family" that night.
As this current case illustrates, since the killing, the Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation have been anything but transparent in this investigation.
Other than releasing the ridiculously short 12-second video, the DCI, the BPD, and the Des Moines County Attorney's office have denied requests for all other portions of the investigation.
Shortly after the killing, Des Moines County Attorney, Amy Beavers released a seven-page report detailing the reasons why Officer Hill will not face charges for killing Autumn Steele.
According to a report out of the Des Moines Register at the time:
Beaver’s report makes reference to her rationale for not charging Hill with crimes that clearly aren’t supported by the evidence, such as felony involuntary manslaughter, which requires the commission of some other crime at the time of the homicide, and murder. Her report makes no mention of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter, which is imposed in cases where a “person unintentionally causes the death of another person by the commission of an act in a manner likely to cause death or serious injury.”
In her report, Beaver cited the fact that Hill is a police officer. Beaver says that he was in a difficult situation in which he was trying to stop a domestic dispute as well as protect himself from a dog. Being that he was a police officer, in this situation, he is entitled to special treatment, according to Beaver.
Does Beaver's logic make any sense at all?
This was a clear-cut case of one person negligently taking the life of another person and now, we are finding out that there is a cover up.
Try to imagine a situation in which a non-police officer shoots and kills their neighbor in their front yard, either accidentally or not. Then try to imagine this non-police officer escaping any and all accountability. It would not happen.
What's more, the fact that the dog was secured without needing to be killed, illustrates the unnecessary actions of the officer.
Police officers are supposedly highly trained professionals, prepped to make hasty decisions in volatile situations. This is a claim that we hear all the time from the police themselves as well as supporters. Being able to make this claim means that holding them less accountable than the average citizen, should never occur—especially when they are caught lying.
Because of their monopoly on the use of force, cops should be held to a much higher standard of conduct than the average citizen. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case.