Dog may have led to fatal shooting of woman by Iowa officer

Woman was shot by officer during a domestic disturbance call Tuesday


By Andy Hoffman
The Hawk Eye

BURLINGTON, Iowa — The Burlington police officer involved in the fatal shooting of a 34-year-old woman Tuesday has been identified as Jesse Hill, who was hired as a Burlington police officer in August 2013.

Autumn Steele was shot by the 31-year-old Hill during a domestic disturbance with her husband, Gabriel Steele, 35, about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday outside their home at 104 S. Garfield Ave.

She was pronounced dead at Great River Medical Center in West Burlington a short time later from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

"Initial findings indicate Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill fired his weapon twice, with one round striking Steele in the mid torso," Richard Rahn, a spokesman for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon.

"Officer Hill was taken to the Great River Medical Center and received treatment for dog bite(s) and then released."

There is no indication either Steele or her husband had a weapon at the time of the shooting, authorities said.

Ed Ranck, who lives across the street from the shooting and witnessed the incident, said he doesn't believe the officer intentionally shot the woman.

"There is no belief in my mind the officer was shooting at the woman," Ranck said Tuesday.

"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."

Authorities said the dog was shot once in the front portion its body but survived. He was impounded by officers late Tuesday.

"The Burlington Police Department and the Iowa of Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) recognize the impact this incident has on the Steele family, Officer Hill, fellow officers of the Burlington Police Department and the community alike," Rahn, the DCI special agent in charge, said in the press release.

"With that said, the DCI continues to conduct interviews and examine all physical and forensic evidence to ensure a thorough and impartial investigation."

Rahn said no additional information will be released until all parties are interviewed and the findings of the autopsy, scheduled to be performed Thursday at the University of Iowa, are known.

Hill has been placed on paid administrative leave until the investigation is completed, authorities said.

Rahn did not indicate in the press release whether Hill's body camera was in operation at the time of the shooting.

Steele was killed less than an hour after being released from the Des Moines County jail, where she had been held overnight on a charge of domestic abuse.

According to Des Moines County Associate Court records, Autumn Steele was arrested about 12:30 p.m. Monday on a charge of domestic abuse assault causing injury.

Steele was taken to the Des Moines County jail about 1 p.m. Monday. She appeared before District Associate Judge Mark Kruse about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday on the serious misdemeanor charge.

Kruse released Steele on her own recognizance but told her not to return to her home without a police officer present. He said she could return once to gather personal belongings with the officer in her presence.

He also told her she was to have no direct or indirect contact with her husband, who was listed as the victim in the domestic assault case.

According to Des Moines County jail records, Steele was released from custody about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. A short time later, she appeared at the house without a police officer and began arguing with her husband.

Ranck heard the two arguing and looked over to see the man trying to leave with the couple's preschool son, believed to be about 4 years old.

"I was standing outside when I saw the man and the woman go into the house," Ranck said. "Then I saw the man come back outside with his child. That's when the woman followed him outside and the dog came out of the house behind her. That's when the domestic disturbance started.

"She began hitting him and screaming at him. That's when the police officer showed up. He got out of his (patrol) car and was attempting to break up the fight when the dog startled him.

"In my mind, I don't think the officer or the man (Gabriel Steele) did anything inappropriate. The guy was trying to protect himself and his child, and I think the officer thought the dog was attacking him. I think the officer was protecting himself, trying to shoot the dog when he fell and shot the woman.

"He was shooting at the dog while he was falling down. I don't think the dog was attacking him. It seemed to me like he was being playful, but I do think the dog startled the officer."

Seconds after the shooting, another Burlington police officer arrived, and the two officers tried to help the woman, who was lying motionless in the snow on the sidewalk in front of the home.

Several other officers arrived and tried to calm Gabriel Steele, who wanted to help his wife.

"I'm a combat veteran," he screamed. "What are you guys (police) doing? Let me help."

Steele continued to appear distraught as the woman was placed into an ambulance. The child was taken from the scene by an elderly woman and placed in a vehicle nearby. Steele, the unidentified woman and the child left minutes later.

Relatives and friends of Steele are raising money for funeral expense at gofundme.com/autumnS. In addition, the website also is seeking donations to support Steele's two young sons, a 4-year-old who lived with her in Burlington and a 7-year-old son who lives in Columbus, Ga., with his father.

"We are asking for help and prayers to pay for the funeral cost for their loving mother, Autumn," a posting on the website states. "In addition, anything you give will assist in any needs that the two young boys ... will have in dealing with this tragic loss."

Copyright 2015 The Hawk Eye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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