Lawyers Debate The Confidentiality Of Body Cam Video in Police Shooting

Jul 20, 2018

Attorneys for the Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation were in a Des Moines hearing room Friday, arguing for the confidentiality of records in a fatal police shooting more than three years ago.   

The Burlington Hawkeye and the victim’s family seek the release of police video and 911 recordings in the death of Autumn Steele, who was fatally shot by Officer Jesse Hill at the Steele home in January of 2015.  

We followed the law in every respect. -Attorney Patrick O'Connell, representing Burlington P.D.

The case is before the Iowa Public Information Board, which has hired a special prosecutor to argue that the agencies are violating Iowa’s open records law.

An administrative law judge heard testimony Friday at a contested case hearing.

Special Prosecutor Mark McCormick said the issue is what is required by the language of the open records statute, and what public records are not protected.  

“The case is as simple as that,” McCormick told Administrative Law Judge Karen Doland.

“The evidence is going to show we followed the law in every respect,” countered attorney Patrick O’Connell representing the Burlington Police Department.  

O’Connell questioned Burlington Police Chief Dennis Kramer.   Kramer’s agency denied the initial request for the video from the Burlington Hawkeye.

“Was it your understanding that the department was complying with the law as it was understood at the time,” O’Connell asked.

There isn't a single one of those cases... that has ever determined that a law enforcement agency violated the open records law. -Attorney Jeffrey Peterzalek, representing the DCI

“Yes, as advised by our attorneys,” Chief Kramer responded.   

Both sides referred to past cases involving confidential police records.  

“It's important to note that there isn't a single one of those cases, not a single one, that has ever determined that a law enforcement agency violated the open records law,” said Jeffrey Peterzalek, attorney for the DCI.  “There is no support for that proposition in any of those cases.”

The DCI maintains that a 12 second clip of the video meets the requirements of the law.

Peterzalek questioned DCI Agent Richard Rahm about the clip.

“Does that videoclip depict the incident surrounding the officer-involved shooting, from the time the officer arrived until the time that the shots were fired?”  Peterzalek asked.

“Everything that was in that clip that you're referring to provides the immediate facts and circumstances as to our investigation,” Rahm replied.

In lieu of closing arguments, the attorneys will submit final briefs in the case by September 4th.   The judge will then make its recommendation to the Iowa Public Information Board.   It will be up to the board whether to sanction the agencies or demand release of the records.