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ACLU Challenges State Board Ruling That Keeps Police Shooting Records Confidential

police car
Diego Parra
/
Pixabay
The case involves body camera footage and other records from a police shooting in Burlington in 2015.

The ACLU of Iowa announced Monday it is challenging an Iowa Public Information Board ruling that says body camera footage and other records from a police shooting can be kept confidential forever.

The appeal was filed in Polk County District Court on behalf of Adam Klein, an attorney for the family of Autumn Steele.

A Burlington police officer shot and killed Steele in 2015, and a battle over records from the case continued for four years.

A federal judge unsealed body camera footage and other records from the shooting in 2018, after Steele’s family reached a $2 million settlement with the city of Burlington. But last month, the Iowa Public Information Board determined that under state law, law enforcement agencies can keep that information—including 911 call recordings and dash cam videos—forever confidential.

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said that ruling was wrong. She said Iowa law supports the release of footage from body cameras.

“They’re expensive equipment, and they were sold to the public under this promise that it would be a way for the public to hold police accountable,” Bettis Austen said.

She added more police departments started purchasing body cameras at a time when public concerns about police shootings were at an all-time high.

“Despite that promise, the decision of the public information board that we’re appealing essentially says body camera footage can remain entirely secret unless the police want to disclose it,” Bettis Austen said. “So it’s an entirely one-sided decision by law enforcement.”

The ACLU of Iowa is asking a judge to rule that police investigative reports and 911 calls, body camera video and dash cam video are subject to open records laws unless disclosure would threaten an investigation or a person’s safety.

Iowa Public Information Board Executive Director Margaret Johnson said Monday afternoon she had not been notified of the appeal.

A bill that would have clarified how public records laws apply to body camera footage from police shootings has not advanced in the Iowa Legislature this year.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter