Article published today in Burlington Iowa Hawkeye newspaper COMPLETE HAWK EYE ARTICLE****
Steele shooting continues
Troubled woman involved in domestic abuse, custody battle.
By ANDY HOFFMAN firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been almost a month since Autumn Steele was shot fatally in front of her home by a Burlington police officer, yet few details have been released about events leading to the shooting.
Family and friends of the 34¬year¬old woman repeatedly have demanded answers from the Burlington Police Department through Freedom of Information requests and dozens of postings on social media websites questioning how the Burlington Police Department handled the incident.
Steele was killed during a domestic disturbance about 10:30 a.m. Jan. 6 as she argued with her husband, Gabriel Steele, 35, outside the couple's home at 104 S. Garfield Ave.
Family and friends want to know why police won't release Officer Jesse Hill's body camera. He's been identified by authorities as the man who fired the shot that killed Steele. Family and friends also want police to release the dashboard video from Hill's car. He was the only officer at the scene when the shooting occurred.
A witness to the shooting said it appeared Hill was trying to thwart an attack by Steele's dog, a German shepherd mix, during the altercation between Steele and her husband.
Ed Ranck, who lives across the street from the Steeles and saw the shooting, said, "There is no belief in my mind the officer was shooting at the woman."
"It appeared he was shooting at the dog when (the officer) fell to the ground," Ranck said. "It's my belief the woman was shot accidentally. The dog startled the officer. The officer began shooting at the dog. The officer was still shooting when he fell down in the snow."
Steele was pronounced dead at Great River Medical Center in West Burlington. She was shot in the chest in front of the couple's 4¬year¬old son after officers were sent to the area to investigate a domestic dispute.
Hill suffered dog bites in the incident and was taken to GRMC for treatment of minor wounds and later released.
Many, including Steele's mother, have accused police of covering up Hill's actions, which they believe represented excessive use of force.
Burlington Police Chief Doug Beaird insisted the department is not protecting Hill. Beaird said he is prohibited from even acknowledging Hill was wearing a body camera and, if he was, whether it captured the shooting.
"It's an ongoing investigation, and the department is not at liberty to release any specific evidence regarding the incident at this time," he said, adding his department has no control over the investigation. Beaird said his department notified the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation minutes after the shooting and asked it to lead the inquiry into the fatal shooting.
DCI Special Agent Rick Rahn is in charge of the investigation and has released three brief press statements updating the investigation. However, Rahn has declined to release specific details and said last week he won't release the findings.
"When the investigation is complete, I will submit the report to the Des Moines County Attorney's Office for review," he said. "We will not be releasing any information ourselves."
The most recent fatal police shooting in southeast Iowa occurred in August when a Fort Madison police officer shot and killed a man during a confrontation inside the man's residence. Rahn also was in charge of that inquiry.
That shooting occurred Aug. 3, and the DCI completed its investigation Sept. 14. However, before results were released, the Lee County Attorney's office asked the Iowa Attorney General's office to review the findings.
On Sept. 12, after the state attorney general's office submitted its review of the DCI investigation, the Lee County Attorney's office then cleared the police officer of any wrongdoing.
The investigation lasted about seven weeks from the time of the shooting until the officer was allowed to return to active duty.
Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers said last week she cannot say definitively if she will ask the Iowa Attorney General's office to review the DCI report before determining whether Hill acted within the law.
"I'm definitely considering that option," she said.
Hill, 31, has remained on paid administrative leave since the shooting.
What Beaird did say Friday is Hill, a two¬year¬veteran of the police force, has had no disciplinary problems since joining the department.
"Officer Hill has always been in good standing within the department since he was hired in August 2013," Beaird said, adding there is no indication Hill ever has been accused of using excessive force.
Beaird added he "knows of no situation where Officer Hill has discharged his firearm during routine duties as a police officer."
Court order ignored
Key issues in the case revolve around questions regarding whether Hill was justified for firing his weapon and whether Steele's court¬documented battles with mental health issues and a pattern of disregarding numerous court orders may have contributed to her death.
Court records in both Iowa and Georgia regarding domestic abuse and custody issues indicate Steele violated three court orders from two district judges within the past two years.
The last occurred the day she was shot. It's that violation authorities said may have contributed to her death.
On Jan. 5, the day before she was shot, Steele was charged with domestic abuse for attacking her husband with a spatula during an argument at their home.
After spending the night in the Des Moines County jail, Steele was released at 9:30 a.m. by District Associate Judge Mark Kruse with a direct order she not return to the couple's residence to collect her belongings without a police escort.
Instead, within an hour, she was back to the residence without an escort. There, she got involved in a physical altercation with her husband in front of their preschool son, Gunner.
Hill was dispatched to the residence for a report of a domestic disturbance about 10:30 a.m. Witnesses said when he arrived, Steele and her husband were involved in a fight. While trying to intervene, witnesses said Hill was startled by the family dog. He then fired his weapon, fatally wounding Steele. The dog also was struck.
A review of court records in both Iowa and Georgia revealed ongoing problems between Steele and her ex¬husband, Sean Michael Schoff, the father of her 7¬year¬old son, Kai.
Steele violated a Georgia district court judge's ruling and a Des Moines County district judge's ruling concerning the custody of Kai.
In the Georgia ruling, Steele was ordered to appear in court regarding a custody hearing about the couple's son. At Schoff's request, Georgia Superior Court Judge J. Ronald Mullins Jr. ordered Steele to return Kai to Schoff. She refused, saying she intended to keep him in Burlington.
On Aug. 14, Mullins ordered Steele to return to Georgia with the child to attend a hearing on the matter.
"The defendant (Steele) had ample notice and opportunity to be present at the hearing of this case and declined to do so even though she was ordered to do so and to bring the child," Mullins wrote in a court opinion.
Mullins conducted the hearing without Steele.
According to Georgia Superior Court documents, Schoff allowed Kai to stay with Steele in Burlington for two months on a temporary visit last summer, with Watch: Marshawn Lynch shows Conan how to make an obscene gesture Sports Illustratedthe stipulation she return the child to Georgia no later than Aug. 1 so he could enroll in school.
She refused to return the child, relying on a provision in the couple's Divorcee Parenting Plan in which custody reverted to her in August 2013 because Schoff failed to attend a hearing modifying custody. Schoff told the court he didn't attend because he had changed residences and didn't receive notification of the hearing.
Schoff again went to Mullins, seeking another order forcing Steele to return Kai to Georgia.
At a subsequent hearing, Schoff presented evidence to Mullins from the Des Moines County Attorney's office and the Des Moines County Sheriff's Department indicating his son may be in danger if allowed to remain in Burlington with Steele.
Included in that hearing was evidence indicating Steele was charged in July 2013 in Des Moines County District Court with aggravated domestic abuse assault for attacking Gabriel Steele with a knife.
Court records noted she was arrested in that incident after Des Moines County Sheriff's deputies responded to a home in the 4000 block of 120th Street, where they found Gabriel Steele hiding in a bathroom.
"Upon arrival, deputies found the defendant (Autumn Steele) in the living room," court records stated. "The defendant was saying, 'The staff sergeant is in there.' The deputy observed a closed door with six stab holes in it. This door was the door that goes into the bathroom where (Gabriel Steele) was locked in hiding."
A few months after the charges against Autumn Steele were filed, the Des Moines County Attorney's office dismissed them because Gabriel Steele declined to participate in the prosecution of his wife.
After listening to testimony and reviewing two years of documents, Mullins determined Kai Schoff indeed was in "imminent danger" and again ordered Steele to return the child to Georgia.
The judge said after listening to evidence and testimony he concluded (Steele) has been "diagnosed with a bipolar condition and she drinks to excess ...
"The court heard testimony from multiple witnesses and concluded (Steele) has violent outbursts and has been neglectful of this child (Kai). On July 31, 2014, this court concluded the child was in imminent danger in his mother's care and issued an emergency order transferring custody to the father." Mullins then made Schoff the "primary physical custodian of the minor child (Kai)." Again, Steele refused.
Schoff then hired Scott Schroeder, a Burlington attorney, to file documents in Des Moines County District Court ordering Steele to adhere to the Georgia court's ruling.
Again, she refused to follow the order.
Des Moines County District Judge John Linn reviewed Schroeder's request, along with the Georgia Superior Court rulings, and agreed last September the child should be returned immediately to his father.
"The court further acknowledges the finding and conclusion of the (Georgia) Superior Court that 'there is a threat of imminent danger to this child (Kai) if ... left in the care of" Steele, Linn wrote.
She refused again.
Linn then issued an order directing the Des Moines County sheriff to coordinate with Schoff and Schroeder to assist the father in obtaining physical custody of the child "at the earliest opportunity."
"Autumn Mae Steele shall forthwith relinquish custody and physical care of Kai Michael Schoff to Sean Michael Schoff," Linn wrote.
Soon after Linn's ruling, Schoff, Schroeder and the Des Moines County Sheriff's Department made arrangements with the authorities at Black Hawk Elementary School to allow them to remove the child from the school and return him to Georgia, where he now lives with his father.
In a matter related to Steele's death, a hearing has been set before Burlington's animal hearing board to determine if Sammy, the German shepherd, is vicious and should be euthanized.
Maj. Dennis Kramer, who oversees the animal control office for the Burlington police department, said the dog's owner has been notified of the Feb. 25 hearing
"We are following city ordinance concerning dog bites," he said Monday. "The dog attacked a person (Hill), off its property, on the sidewalk. Therefore, our animal control officer (Tim Ourth) was notified."
Kramer said due to information Ourth gathered, the hearing will be necessary.
"There is a (history by the dog) of aggression toward postal carriers and other (police) officers," he said.
According to city ordinance, a five¬member citizens board, which is appointed by the Burlington City Council, can declare a dog dangerous and vicious if one of the following three criteria are met:
*â The dog attacks or bites a person or animal without provocation on public or private property:
*â The dog killed or injured another animal while off its owner's property;
*â The dog is used or trained to fight. The board cannot declare an animal vicious if:
*â The dog was protecting or defending its owner's premises;
*â If the person or animal injured was trespassing on the dog owner's property, was assaulting the dog or committing a crime; *
â If the injured dog (or person) was tormenting or taunting the dog on its owner's property.
If the dog is declared vicious, it will be euthanized after a five¬day waiting period, during which the owner can appeal to district court, according to the ordinance. *I can smell Burlington Iowa from here. Gina aka Ginas Junk
Labels: autumn Mae steele, autumn steele, Burlington Iowa, excessive force, Ginas Junk, Hawkeye newspaper, jesse hill, mental illness, negligent, police, police shoot dog, police shooting, Sammy