Justice for Autumn Steele

This is a collection of all of my writings and activist work in the case of a young mother in Burlington, Iowa – Autumn Steele – who was murdered by officer Jesse Hill.

Cop Tries To Shoot Dog, Slips, Kills Dogs Owner- Burlington, IA

On the morning of January 6, 2015 Officer Jesse Hill of the Burlington Police Department (Iowa) responded to a domestic violence call at the home of the Steele Family. During the course of the investigation the families dog began barking and jumping on Hill. So, of course being a police officer, he immediately decided to shoot and kill it. That plan, however, backfired immensely when the officer slipped and began to fall- mid shot. As he fell, his bullet was assigned a new trajectory that ultimately ended the life of Autumn Steele, aged 34.

From the Iowa law pertaining to Involuntary Manslaughter, Misdemeanor:
“unintentionally causes the death of another person by the commission of an act in a manner likely to cause death or serious injury”

Although this was exactly what Officer Hill did on that icy January morning, Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beaver declined to file charges after an investigation by the Iowa Dept. of Public Safety. The officer was also allowed to keep his job and did not face any disciplinary actions.

To add insult to manslaughter, the Iowa D.P.S. then refused to release much of the evidence in the case. Only a twelve second bit of footage from the officers body camera has been released so far, leaving a crucial gap in the evidence available to concerned family members and citizens.

Although the family of Autumn Steele has made an official public records request for the missing information, as well as a personal written public plea from the woman’s mother, Gina Klinner Waters-Colbert, they have been denied. Iowa Law gives investigators discretion into what can be released, even after the investigation, which more often than not results in this information being buried in a vault. Probably labeled ‘Public-LOL-Records’.

Assistant Attorney General Jeff Peterzalek has been tasked with the tasteless job of explaining to Steele’s family and the public why their records requests have been denied. In a public relations twist that is equally irrelevant and asinine, Peterzalek claims that they refuse to release more of the video, as some of it contains footage of the dying woman partially undressed during emergency treatment after the shooting. The 911 call transcript, dash cam footage and pertinent e-mails have also all been kept under wraps.


While there is no doubt that the shooting was accidental, the laws are clear. The very same laws Jesse Hill was assigned to enforce are laws he is not being held accountable under. His badge has granted him an exemption status from the consequences that come from breaking those laws.

Call the Iowa Department of Public Safety to request they release all of the investigative materials in the death of Autumn Steele @ 515-725-6000
or e-mail them at dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us

Meanwhile the State of Iowa has created a legal process in which ‘transparency’ is little more than a scary buzzword to be avoided in polite conversation during office hours for its legislators, judiciary and enforcement branches. The same ‘discretion’ granted to the state to protect its mistakes and possible trespasses is something you certainly will not hear about from officers who ‘compulsively’ enforce the rest of the laws. But only against citizens.

Call the Iowa State Legislature and urge them to honor their commitment to citizens to provide transparency, acountability and justice @ (515)281-3592 or (888)426-6283 
or e-mail them at ombudsman@legis.state.ia.us

I had a bit of time to speak with Autumn Steele’s mother this evening. As you might imagine, the experience that has been foisted upon her and the rest of their family and friends has been terrifying. Not only was their beloved Autumn taken from them, but those who did it have acted within the veil of secrecy and conspired within the shadow of the law to withhold information and deny them justice and the closure they hope it will bring.

The smile of a beloved woman who would not take 'no' for answer. And neither will her families search for justice.

Autumn was married and had two sons. Her family remembers her as intelligent, funny, inventive, imaginative, wise, insightful and above all- loving. She was a talented musician who inspired those around her with her creativity and eclectic tastes. Autumn showed strong leadership skills, determination and responsibility from a young age, which she carried into her career as a dental technician and hygienist. Most of all she was a dedicated mother to her two children Kai (7) and Gunner (3), who will never fall asleep to the music of her loving embrace again. Nor will they ever have a good explanation for how and why this happened, if the Iowa Dept. of Public Safety and Iowa Legislature have anything to do with it.

The following is a passage from her eulogy-

Like the season, Autumn radiated beauty and color…the splash of gold, rust, green, and red that envelop your senses when you marvel at nature’s artistry are the colors that framed her beauty….her warmth reminds you of that first fire you huddled around when the season’s brisk air surrounded you….her smile and sparkling eyes show as bright as the stars and moon on a crisp Autumn’s night…. her laughter and joy echo off the still air, and her love of life swirls around you like the winds of a changing season….

The friends and family of Autumn are having their fourth gathering this Tuesday, June 15th to protest the lack of accountability, transparency and justice in her tragic death by the very hands that were supposed to protect her. The protest will take place in Burlington, Iowa at 1:00 PM.

To get more details, go to the Facebook Event Page
we have created to help spread the word

This past Saturday many Iowans came out to join us in Des Moines to protest the killing of Ryan Bolinger. We hope that many of you will join your voices to tell the makers, judges and enforcers of Iowa law that the unanswered death of Autumn will not stand, in a voice so loud they cannot help but hear it.

A Mother’s Christmas Wish – An Open Letter to Officer Jesse Hill

Earlier this year I met the mother of Autumn Steele, who was accidentally killed by a Burlington, Iowa police officer who slipped while trying to shoot the family dog. After speaking with her mother and writing THIS ARTICLE detailing the case, we continued to keep in touch, and eventually I came to consider her a true friend. As a result, I have come to understand the tragedy of senseless police violence through a mother’s perspective, as well as framing different ideas in that perspective to expand my own thinking and empathy.

With the holidays approaching we are bombarded with messages of family and togetherness. So what would it be like to be the mother of someone who was senselessly killed since the last holidays by one of the people supposedly entrusted with protecting us? When around each corner there was a reminder of family and togetherness and ultimately that this would never be the same for you again, how would that feel? And so I tried to empathize with that and I found myself empathizing with everybody who lost somebody they love to senseless police violence in the last year. So while I am going to specifically address Officer Jesse Hill, this message goes out to every cop who tore a family apart this year out of their own clumsiness, neurotic fear, stupidity or plain old love of violence and domination.

Dear Jesse Hill,

Greetings to you and your family. I wish you all health, prosperity and happiness in the coming year and beyond. As I am sure you know, family is what this holiday is all about. So while you are enjoying the company and warmth of your family, I would like you to consider a few things. Earlier this year you made a mistake. Because of that mistake there is an entire family whose Christmas will be sad, painful and empty this year. It may have been an accident, Jesse, but it was your fault. It was your actions that led to the accident that killed an innocent human being. A citizen who you took an oath to serve and protect. You broke that oath, Jesse. And in doing so you took away Autumn Steele, a daughter, mother, sister, wife, cousin and friend.

Since we both know that you can hide behind that thin blue line and never face any consequences, which is what has happened, that oath has become meaningless. There is only one way that you can make it meaningful, Jesse. There is only one way that you can be guided by your honor and dignity to do the right thing. Quit being a police officer. You proved that you were unable to handle the stress of that job. The right thing to do is to walk away from it. Show us that you are more concerned with character and values than you are with your pride or career. What do you stand for, Jesse, as a man? Are you the kind of man who would break an oath and then pretend nothing ever happened just to benefit yourself?

I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Jesse. I am going to assume you took the job of police officer because you wanted to serve your community and keep it peaceful and safe. However, you made a bad decision that led to events beyond your control that killed a human being who was failed by the oath you took. There are two ways a man can handle his failures. He can double down on them and plow right through life compounding his failures and ignoring them. That man is the man who threatens the safety and peace of a community, not the one who upholds it. The second kind of man will admit his mistakes and his weaknesses and learn from them and move into other areas where perhaps his strengths are better. This kind of man, if he truly wishes to serve his fellow humans, will find a way to do so no matter what he does, and so is not bound to the areas of his failures. So I want you to ask yourself, Jesse, which kind of man are you? Or rather, which kind of man do you want to be? And if life dealt you the hand it dealt Autumn, which kind of man do you want your family to remember you were during their first holiday without you?

I have faith in humanity, Jesse. And I have faith in you. Lay down your badge and your guns forever. It is the right thing to do.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and a Happy New Year!

-Joshua Scott Hotchkin

Cop Who Murdered Mother In Front of Her Child Is A Deadbeat Dad

Jesse Hill’s lack of remorse for recklessly taking the life of the mother of two young children begins to make sense when you understand that the man doesn’t even care much about his own kids.

In January 2015 Officer Jesse Hill of the Burlington Police Department shot and killed Autumn Steele during an icy fall that happened while he was trying to shoot her dog Sammy. But since there has been no evidence that anyone but Hill escalated the situation in which a woman was killed, her death was not so much an accident, but an act of neglect with malice.

Here in Burlington rumors began to spread of other parts of Hill’s questionable past that call his character into question. Besides showing no remorse for the death he caused, a video surfaced of Hill (before becoming a cop) flashing gang signs. One of the other persistent rumors is that Hill had fathered a child during an affair.

In investigating that rumor through searching public records I found that Hill had indeed fathered a child with a woman and tried to skirt his responsibility until he was forced to by the state. Not only that, but since at least one of the children from his marriage is his oldest, it means that the unsupported child was the product of cheating. People around here claim that the cheating didn’t end there either, but who is to say? Certainly the guys character is not inviting of the benefit of the doubt.


The Child Support Recovery Unit are the agency that goes after the people who have not paid their child support. As it turns out, the rumors were all correct. Jesse Hill is a deadbeat dad and a cheater.

At the same time the Burlington Police Department and local media take lots of opportunities to paint Hill as a hero and upstanding officer and all around great guy. Recently he was seated next to a child during a charity police support function and had his picture taken so the people of Burlington would believe he is a friend and protector of children.


I cannot imagine what Autumn’s family must feel when they see these horrible things. I am ashamed to live in Burlington due to the fact that so many people won’t speak out about this and demand justice. It is beyond me how Hill can live so peacefully with what he has done, but I cannot understand at all why he has not been tried for his crime and instead used as some sort of mascot for the police and our city.

Photography Is Not A Crime recently reported that the Steele family have filed a lawsuit against Hill. The ability to do so would expire in January, so the civil case is likely a last resort in light of any possible criminal case being delayed by the Iowa Board of Public Information’s inability to make a decision regarding the release of evidence to the family, outside investigators and the public.

If Steele’s family read this, or someday her children do, I hope you know that there were some of us here that want justice for what happened to Autumn and will never forget her or what was done. And when Jesse is called to answer for the deeds of this lifetime in the hereafter, unless he accounts for what he has done and makes amends now, his judgment will not be kind.

Justice for Autumn Steele – 1 Year Anniversary Protest

Last Wednesday, January 6th, I gathered together with a group of really great folks outside of the Burlington (Iowa) Police Department to demand justice for Autumn Steele one year after she was killed by BPD officer Jesse Hill.


It was a cold day, but that didn’t stop these dedicated, caring and compassionate folks from joining me to demonstrate that we would not forgive or forget until there is justice; and to honor Autumn’s memory and show her family, as well as the families of all innocent civilians killed by police, that we care and will stand beside them. I will let the video speak for itself, but there are a few thoughts i’d like to share.

I have friends who grew up in Burlington, so I have heard lots of stories over the years. It reminds me of my hometown of Newton, Iowa in many ways. Both were once thriving industrial towns that later lost much of their employer base to NAFTA era outsourcing. At the same time both places were hit very hard by methamphetamine use. Today Burlington looks old and run down. Its once thriving waterfront downtown on the Mississippi is now just a collection of decaying relics that nobody has the resources or inclination to fix up. Its streets are relatively empty and its businesses are holding on by a thread. Even the government buildings like the police station were testaments to hard times.

Hard times bring their own culture. The meth use being battled (like a war instead of an illness) by police and increasing dependency on government assistance made Burlington residents ripe for an unjustified faith in their local authorities. Today those authorities are above question. This is how Hill and BPD have gotten away with killing Autumn. They have taken advantage of the sad side effects of a community on the constant verge of collapse. Several times in Burlington while we were making noise in the street, folks would peak out of their windows, wanting to see but not be seen seeing. This is such a great illustrative metaphor for that communities general apathy and the apathy for Autumns killing. They know. They just don’t want to get involved because that would tear down the thin veneer of control the authorities provide for them. It is a neurotic fear of the cognitive dissonance they would have to face if they recognized the truth of this situations and their community in general.

So my message for the people of Burlington is this: You have a responsibility to one another. You have a responsibility to Autumn. She could have been your daughter, sister, mother, wife, etc. The hard times your community have fallen on in the past few decades is no excuse for your apathy. Those authorities are not your protectors. They are the vultures picking whats left of your community from its bones. If you do not rise up against them when they are so obviously wrong, you will deserve the even worse parts of a community on the decline that are coming to you.

The other thing I wanted to mention was how the media responded to this protest and most others. First of all, the media that did show up were pretty hostile to us and obvious quite friendly with the cops. The man you saw interviewing me in the video was seen at one point hugging an officer in the street. So there is that to consider about the state of Burlington, Iowa as well. Here is the article that was published by the radio station. Notice he did not use any of his interview with me. Instead he chose to go with the messages that have already been printed in the past.

This is something that mainstream media does a lot. They choose the messages that have already met with public approval or the ones that are safest. They will shy away from any critical opinions of the system, because more often than not, they are part of or related to that system in some way. Therefore it is important that protesters recognize this will happen. If you want to communicate effectively with the media, discuss strategies ahead of time. Elect spokespersons that have a strong message all can agree with, and make sure everybody knows that message so that they can share it if asked by media to speak. Other wise they will water down your message and tame it so it is not harmful to the status quo.

I recommend that you start by identifying your possible goals. Then decide which ones are both most possible and most agreeable. If this is not your first protest on the subject, be sure to change your message each time. Different people will respond to different messages, so you can get the most effect out of media time by presenting new focal points of discussion each time. Once you have identified your core goal, create the message that helps you to meet it and make sure everyone is familiar with it and can be repeat it if the media tries to railroad people who are unprepared, as they often will. The entire game is rigged against us, but if we learn how it works, we can rig it back to our advantage. We have one thing that systematic entities can never have- creativity. Using it gives those fighting for justice, freedom and liberty the upper hand.

Here is an article from Iowa Free Press on the protest. They were not afraid to get to the heart of the issue and we applaud their integrity and honesty.

Here are some photos taken of the event from a wonderful photographer who was part of the protest.

Thanks again for all who participated, and on behalf of all those folks, we invite you to join us the next time we show up to remind Jesse, the BPD and Burlington that we will never forget.




    • Thanks, Barb!
      This new site is pretty much what I consider the greatest articles I wrote during those two years. It is about 1/4 of my total writings from Cop Block, and except the Autumn, the articles are more about policing as a whole rather than individual cases. What I call ‘evergreen content’.


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