- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A judge is set to consider whether Iowa authorities violated the open records law by refusing to release video and other records related to a police officer’s fatal shooting of a Burlington woman.

The Iowa Public Information Board voted Thursday to reject a report from its deputy director, Margaret Johnson, saying there was no legal reason for the board to look into complaints seeking the release of the records.

At the heart of the issue is whether Iowa law enforcement agencies can classify police videos as part of their “investigative” files and forever keep them from the public.

Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill shot 34-year-old Autumn Steele in January while responding to a fight between Steele and her husband. Hill was not charged in the shooting and returned to duty.

Steele’s family and The Hawk Eye have waged a months-long battle for access to a number of records related to the case. They have filed the complaints against the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Burlington Police Department and the Des Moines County Attorney.

The Des Moines Register reports that Burlington police and the Des Moines County attorney claim that they turned all their records over to state investigators and cannot provide the information to the public.

Attorneys for the police department and the safety department say they satisfied Iowa law by releasing a 12-second body camera video of the shooting.

Information board member Bill Monroe said that Iowa’s public records law was written before the commonplace use of police video and that part of the board’s job to interpret how it fits into the law.

“I’m, for one, uncomfortable with law enforcement determining what should and shouldn’t be released,” Monroe said in regard to what videos, or portions of video, are made public.

A judge can recommend the release of the records and fines of up to $2,500 for each agency. The information board can either accept or reject the recommendation. Any final action by the board can be appealed by the involved parties in district court.

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