A newly released video shows an Iowa police officer's frantic reaction after realizing he'd just shot an unarmed woman in front of her home.
Autumn Steele, 34 was shot once in the chest by Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill on Jan. 6, 2015, according to the Des Moines Register, which published the video late Wednesday evening. A federal judge ordered the footage and hundreds of pages of documents related to the case be made public as part of a lawsuit filed the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, the Register reports.
After being shot, Autumn immediately dropped to the ground. She screamed as she fell.
Her husband Gabriel Steele, 35, a combat veteran who saw two tours of duty in Iraq and was discharged with traumatic brain injury according to Steele’s GoFundMe page, immediately realizes his wife had been shot.
“He shot you!?,” he says, as he looks at her still body, face-down in the snow. Then he turns to the Hill, “You shoot her!?”
Hill responds, “Did I? Oh my God. Oh my God.”
Gabriel places the small child he had been carrying on the ground and kneels over his mortally wounded wife, “You shot her!” Gabriel repeats to Hill, who responds “Did I? Did I really?”
Gabriel repeats, “You shot her!” and Hill says “Oh my God.”
That’s when Hill radioes for an ambulance as he and his partner Tim Merryman attempt to render first aid, first removing clothing so they can find the wound. But Hill becomes frantic.
“I pulled my gun and shot it and I hit her,” Hill says, as captured by his body camera video. “Oh, my God, no! Oh, f--k, TIm! S--t I’m f--king going to prison, Tim!”
But Hill never went to prison, nor was he ever disciplined, partly because he said he was attacked by the family dog, the Des Moines Register reports.
Steele’s family disputes that claim, though, and photographs show that even if Hill was bit he was not bit hard enough to break the skin or draw blood, according to the Register.
Although Des Moines police previously released part of the video, they concealed the full video, including Hill's comments in the aftermath that he though he was "going to prison."
In other court documents ordered released, Steele's family argued that those comments could be evidence that Hill was aware of the potential recklessness of his actions and be the basis for an involuntary manslaughter case against him, the Register reports.
When Steele was killed, Officers Hill and Merryman were responding to a report of a couple fighting shortly after 10 a.m. When they arrive, the video shows Autumn, Gabriel and one of their children are standing on the sidewalk in front of their home. Freshly fallen snow is on the ground.
Autumn had just been released from jail, having been arrested the day before for assaulting Gabriel. The judge who granted her bail told her she could go back to the house to collect her things, but only with a police officer present, according to the Register. She went alone. But it is not known if Hill or Merryman knew any of this when they responded.
Gabriel is holding the child in his arms, and is trying to walk away from Autumn. Autumn appears to be trying to take the child from Gabriel.
Hill approaches and tells Autumn “Hey! Hey! Hey stop it!.” Autumn responds, “He’s got my kid!”
But then the sound of a dog growling can be heard, and Hill says “Get your dog.”
Seconds later, Hill fires twice, hitting the dog once, and Autumn once.
Autumn was pronounced dead at the hospital. Neither Steele was armed.
A neighbor who saw the shooting, Ed Ranck, said he didn’t believe Hill was intentionally trying to shoot Steele, according to the Hawkeye, a local Iowa newspaper.
“There is no belief in my mind the officer was shooting at the woman,” Ranck told the newspaper.
“It appeared he was shooting at the dog when (the officer) fell to the ground. 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.”
Autumn Steele’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit after the shooting in federal court. That lawsuit was settled in May for $2 million, according to the Register.
After the video was published by the Register, it was posted on Autumn Steele’s GoFundMe page with a comment, “It has finally made the national news.”
[Photo: Des Moines Police Dept.]