City to settle with family of Iowa woman killed by officer
BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) — A city in Iowa has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a woman who was mistakenly shot and killed by a police officer, attorneys confirmed Wednesday.
Attorneys for the city of Burlington and the estate of Autumn Steele notified a federal court of the settlement, which was reached verbally on Tuesday.
The deal will resolve a lawsuit that claimed an officer acted recklessly when he killed Steele, then participated in a cover-up that portrayed the shooting as justified as the result of an attacking dog.
Officer Jesse Hill was responding to a domestic disturbance involving the 34-year-old Steele and her husband outside their home in January 2015. A brief body camera video released by police shows that Hill fired his service weapon after a family dog is seen jumping and growling. He said later he was intending to shoot at the dog to protect himself, but one shot struck Steele in the chest and killed her as one of her two young sons was feet away.
An attorney for Steele’s estate argued in federal court last month that police video that’s been kept secret for years contradicts the official narrative that the dog attacked and bit Hill. The video gives no indication that there was a bite or that Hill was injured, as he claimed in his police report and a prosecutor asserted in ruling the shooting was justified, attorney Dave O’Brien argued. A judge was considering whether to allow the lawsuit to move forward.
O’Brien said the settlement will include a monetary payment from the city of about 25,000 people that’s about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of Des Moines. He said the amount will be released after the deal is finalized and put in writing.
“We’re pleased with the settlement,” he said.
Martha Shaff, an attorney representing the city and Hill, confirmed a deal was reached but declined comment. She had argued in court that Hill’s actions weren’t unreasonable when he was approaching a chaotic domestic disturbance and unfriendly dog. Hill faced no criminal charges or discipline in the shooting, and soon returned to the police force.
City Manager Jim Ferneau referred questions to attorney Holly Corkery, who refused to release the size of the settlement. She noted that Iowa law requires settlement details to be released only after they are approved by the court and finalized.
The city and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have been criticized for years for withholding additional police video and other investigative documents related to the case. An Iowa Public Information Board enforcement action seeking their release remains pending after numerous delays. The board has also fined a prosecutor $200 after she falsely told an attorney for Steele’s family that she had no records related to the case.