Former Iowa state trooper pleads guilty to civil rights violation during 2017 traffic stop

A former Iowa State Patrol officer pleaded guilty Monday to a civil rights violation in relation to a 2017 traffic stop.

Robert James Smith, 58, was working as an Iowa State Patrol officer on Sept. 25, 2017, when he pulled over Bryce Yakish for speeding on his motorcycle on Interstate 80 near West Liberty. Dash-camera footage shows Smith approaching Yakish with his gun drawn.

Smith then used his left hand to strike Yakish's face shield on his helmet, knocking him backward onto his motorcycle. Smith put his knee on Yakish's neck while handcuffing him. Yakish can be heard complaining of neck pain in the video.

"Smith admitted that this intentional open hand palm strike was with a bad purpose or improper motive to disregard the law and was an unreasonable use of force," a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Iowa said.

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Smith originally was indicted in November 2021 on a charge of violating Yakish's civil rights, including his right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The indictment also stated Smith's conduct injured Yakish.

On Monday, Smith pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law. His sentence will be determined by a federal district court judge at a later date. He faces up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000, according to court records. The case was previously presented in front of a jury but failed to reach a verdict, according to the release.

An alleged history of excessive force

The 2017 incident was not publicized until video footage of the arrest was released in 2019 by Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington. He released video footage of the incident after announcing he would no longer book any suspects arrested by Smith in jail because of a lack of faith in his credibility.

Smith retired from the Iowa State Patrol in 2018 following an internal investigation. He was later hired as a police officer in Durant, where he was accused of using excessive force against a woman during an arrest. The defense attorney in the Durant case, Eric Tindal, alleged in a filing that Smith faced more than two-dozen internal affairs investigations.

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Following the video release, Smith was placed on administrative leave from the Durant Police Department one week before he resigned.

In addition to the criminal case, Yakish filed a civil suit against Smith in 2019 accusing Smith of violating Yakish's rights to privacy, liberty and property and his rights against unreasonable search and seizure, according to court records. The petition also claimed Yakish, who was originally charged with eluding law enforcement following his arrest, suffered physical and emotional harm.

Prosecutors later dropped the charge against Yakish after reviewing video of the incident.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Former Iowa State Patrol officer acknowledges excessive use of force