Iowa officer resigns after video shows him striking biker

July 23, 2019 GMT

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A veteran Iowa police officer has resigned in the face of mounting claims of misconduct and a video that showed him striking a motorcyclist during a 2017 traffic stop.

Robert Smith resigned voluntarily Monday night after the Durant City Council met in closed session to consider his employment status. Smith, one of three full-time officers in the town of 1,800 people, had been on administrative leave since last week.

Allegations of excessive force and false testimony against Smith came to the public’s attention after Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington banned him and other Durant officers from bringing suspects to his jail in May. The problems date to Smith’s 30-year career as a trooper with the Iowa State Patrol, which allowed him to resign after an internal investigation last year before his hiring in Durant.

Wethington said at the time that he could no longer vouch for the credibility of Durant officers, who were directed to take suspects to jails in other counties. The sheriff said Tuesday that, following Smith’s resignation, he would allow Durant to again use the jail, which is in the county seat of Tipton.

“I think it makes it a more trustworthy environment,” Wethington said. “The video clearly shows that he had no problem with violating people’s civil rights.”

The sheriff said that he would push for Smith to be charged criminally for his actions in the 2017 arrest of a speeding motorcyclist, Bryce Yakish, and to be decertified as an officer by the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

Video of the stop shows Smith running from his car with his gun drawn and striking a surrendering Yakish in the helmet with his left hand, knocking Yakish and his bike to the ground. Yakish is heard repeatedly complaining of neck pain.

Smith charged Yakish with eluding law enforcement even though Yakish stopped immediately after Smith activated the lights and siren on his patrol car. That charge, an aggravated misdemeanor, was dropped after a prosecutor concluded it was baseless.

Cedar County initially withheld the video from news outlets and the sheriff on disputed legal grounds but reversed course following protests.

Smith, who did not submit a resignation letter, did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday. His wife, Cedar County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dawn Smith, has accused the sheriff of unfairly targeting her husband and Durant officers after the two elected officials feuded about unrelated matters.

The sheriff has said that he took his stand after county prosecutor Jeff Renander decided to continue to pursue cases in which Smith was the complaining witness. Renander’s office routinely gives defendants notice that Smith’s credibility may be called into question due to previous inaccurate testimony. It also allows them to review a sealed court file detailing Smith’s history.

Defense lawyer Eric Tindal alleged in a filing this month that Smith faced more than two dozen internal affairs investigations during his state patrol career and has a reputation for being quick to assert force against female suspects. Tindal represents a woman who was taken to the ground during an arrest by Smith outside a Durant bar last August.

The woman was charged with drug possession when Smith reported finding marijuana in her car’s glove box during a subsequent search.

Adam Blank, the assistant Cedar County attorney, has declined to release video of that arrest while the case is pending. But in a rare move, he asked a judge Tuesday to grant the defense’s motion to bar his office from using the drug evidence found by Smith or Smith’s testimony in the case. Tindal had argued the search of his client’s car was unconstitutional and Smith’s claims weren’t credible.

Smith’s resignation was effective immediately but Durant agreed to continue pay him his hourly rate for any testimony he gives in pending criminal matters. The city has said it was unaware of prior allegations against Smith when he was hired.

Iowa State Patrol spokesman Nathan Ludwig hasn’t responded to questions, or an open records request, about Smith’s conduct as a trooper or his resignation.