Iowa fails in judicial accountability, according to study

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Iowa received a “D+” grade in a 2015 nationwide assessment of “state government transparency and accountability” conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity.

Both non-profit organizations collaborated on the “State Integrity Investigation,” a study based on “research by reporters in each state to grade and rank the states based on existing laws and analysis of how well they are implemented.”

Each state is ranked by letter grades in 13 categories. In the category of “Judicial Accountability,” Iowa scored an “F” alongside 33 other states, a rating partially attributed to the state’s attempt to “hide police videos” and “the absence of any state government effort to evaluate the performance of judges.”

The study cites the case of 34-year-old Autumn Steele, an unarmed woman who was shot and killed by Police Officer Jesse Hill in Burlington, Iowa on January 6, 2015. As reported by Iowa Free Press:

“Hill responded to a domestic disturbance call involving a dispute between Autumn Steele and her husband Gabriel at their South Garfield Avenue home on the morning of January 6.

“During Hill’s investigation, the Steele family dog, a German Shepard named Sammy, jumped on the officer and allegedly bit him. He initially drew his firearm to shoot the dog, but his weapon discharged and fired two shots as he slipped and fell to the ground. One bullet entered Steele’s chest, which was the fatal shot according to the autopsy report.

“The Des Moines Register reports that ‘[Steele] was also struck in her right arm, and a bullet grazed the dog.'”

After Steele was killed, family members sought official records from local and state agencies regarding the shooting. Their efforts were stonewalled by authorities for months.

Gina Colbert, Steele’s mother, described her treatment by the Burlington Police Department, the state Division of Criminal Investigation and Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers as “cruel and disrespectful.”

“[Assistant] Iowa Attorney [General] Jeff Peterzalek claimed concern for [Autumn’s] family in his reason to not release evidence,” Colbert writes in a July statement to Iowa Free Press, “it is not our family he is concerned for.”

Steele’s family, along with The Hawk Eye and The Des Moines Register newspapers, requested access to police video footage, police reports and 911 phone transcripts. Access to this information was denied until the Iowa Public Information Board voted to “take up” their complaint on September 17.

Lauren Mills of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism writes, “The board promised to seek an informal resolution or, failing that, to launch an investigation that could compel the agencies to release the records.”

Taking into account Iowa’s ranking in all 13 categories, the state is “tied for 10th out of 50 states” in terms of transparency and accountability, a drop from its 7th place ranking and its C+ grade when a 2011-2012 version of the study was conducted.

Other categories featured in the study include: public access to information, political financing, electoral oversight, executive accountability, legislative accountability, state budget processes, state civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, ethics enforcement agencies and state pension fund management.

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