- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa police officer responding to a domestic fight fired his weapon at a growling family dog and inadvertently killed a 34-year-old woman, according to a body camera video released Monday.

Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers decided last month not to file criminal charges against Burlington officer Jesse Hill in the Jan. 6 shooting of Autumn Steele.

Beavers concluded that Hill was justified in trying to shoot the family’s unconfined German Shepherd, Sammy, which attacked and bit him Jan. 6 outside the Burlington home of Autumn Steele and her husband, Gabriel.

Beavers’ findings, released last month following a state investigation, found that one of the shots grazed the dog, and Hill likely accidentally fired the second as he fell backward into the snow. Autumn Steele suffered wounds to her right arm and chest. Beavers said it was unclear whether the first or second shots were fatal.

In a 12-second clip of the video released by the Division of Criminal Investigation on Monday, Hill is shown leaving his squad car as the couple fights on the sidewalk outside their Burlington home. Hill tells them to “quit fighting, stop it.” Autumn Steele screams, “He’s got my kid,” while Gabriel Steele tries to back away with the crying 4-year-old son in his arms.

Soon, a growling dog can be heard and Hill says, “Get your dog.” He quickly fires two gunshots. Gabriel Steele is heard saying, “He shot you?” before the video ends. The video footage does not show images of the dog, which investigators said jumped on Hill’s back and later bit his thigh.

“What it showed me is just how fast these things happen. It was an extremely quick decision that had to be made,” Burlington Police Chief Doug Beaird said Tuesday.

Hill, 31, will not face discipline for the shooting and could return to work as early as Friday, he said. The officer has been on administrative leave.

The department has implemented a mandatory online training program on how to handle encounters with dogs and is considering additional “hands-on training,” Beaird said.

An attorney for Gabriel Steele, Trent Henkelvig, said the clip shows Hill was too quick to use deadly force against the animal. “There was certainly no deadly threat, even if the animal was to attack the officer. We don’t know that he did from that video,” he said.

He added that Hill should be disciplined even if it was an accidental discharge. Henkelvig said he has requested additional investigation documents, noting that his client doesn’t want the case “swept under the rug.”

Beavers ruled Hill couldn’t be charged with murder because he didn’t intend to injure Autumn Steele. Manslaughter and animal abuse charges also don’t apply because he fired his weapon at an unconfined dog to protect himself from injury, she said.

Autumn Steele had been arrested Jan. 5 and charged with serious domestic abuse assault for attacking her husband with a spatula, and a no-contact order was entered. After leaving custody Jan. 6, she returned home and another altercation ensued. Gabriel Steele dialed 911 to report a domestic assault.

The Division of Criminal Investigation declined to release its investigative report, saying it was confidential under the open records law. The agency also didn’t explain why the body camera footage was edited to withhold details of the shooting’s aftermath.

Beavers’ report found that officers could not locate a gunshot wound on Autumn Steele, but performed chest compressions on her while awaiting an ambulance.

As for the dog, a review board has determined that it was not a “vicious animal” and was acting to protect its owners.

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