By Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) - Sen. Chuck Grassley has asked a U.S. attorney to consider whether the federal government should investigate an Iowa police officer’s accidental killing of a woman.

The powerful Iowa senator has forwarded a complaint by the victim’s mother to Nicholas Klinefeldt, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, Grassley’s office said Tuesday.

Klinefeldt is in the best position to determine “whether federal involvement is warranted or necessary” in the January shooting of Autumn Steele by Burlington officer Jesse Hill, Grassley’s office said in a statement.

Grassley, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, has taken similar actions in other disputed police slayings and “there have been times when federal officials have been able to bring more transparency and act in instances when appropriate,” the statement said.

Kevin VanderSchel, a spokesman for Klinefeldt’s office, declined to comment Tuesday, saying the office “generally neither confirms nor denies the existence of an ongoing investigation.”

Hill killed Steele outside of her home seconds after responding to a domestic disturbance between Steele and her husband. He meant to shoot the family dog, which investigators say had bitten him, but apparently slipped and shot Steele in the chest and arm instead. Her three-year-old son was feet away.

Steele’s mother, Gina Colbert, and other critics have accused the city of Burlington, Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers and the Division of Criminal Investigation of withholding key details about their investigation, which didn’t lead to criminal charges or discipline against Hill.

Beavers ruled that Hill was justified in trying to shoot the attacking animal. So far, authorities have only released Beavers’ summary of the findings and a 12-second clip from Hill’s body camera video. The DCI has withheld all additional records, arguing they can be kept secret under Iowa law even though the investigation is complete. Steele’s relatives and a newspaper have filed complaints with the Iowa Public Information Board seeking their release. Colbert also raised her concerns to Grassley.

In a June 10 response to Colbert, Grassley said he appreciated hearing her allegations about “a lack of transparency” by local officials and noted that he had shared them with Klinefeldt.

“The U.S. Attorney has the authority to investigate this incident, and may be able to obtain the information that you have not been able to receive,” Grassley wrote.

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