TIPTON, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa trooper pointed his gun at a motorcyclist and knocked him down for no apparent reason during a traffic stop, then falsely charged the man with eluding law enforcement, according to video and documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
The sheriff in eastern Iowa’s Cedar County said the officer’s behavior amounted to excessive force and misconduct, and it’s among the reasons he recently announced he would no longer book any suspects the officer arrests.
Dashboard camera video shows then-Iowa State Patrol officer Robert Smith pulling over motorcyclist Bryce Yakish for speeding on Sept. 25, 2017. What appears to be a routine stop escalates immediately when Smith runs from his car with his gun drawn and strikes Yakish in his helmet’s face shield. The force knocks the 150-pound Yakish backward and onto his bike, and both he and the vehicle fall to the ground. Yakish is then repeatedly heard complaining of neck pain.
“Something is wrong with my neck,” says the Davenport man, who was 20 at the time.
The Cedar County attorney’s office released the video in response to records requests, after initially claiming that it was confidential and could be withheld. The office has issued a disclosure known as a Giglio notice to suspects indicating that Smith, now an officer in the small town of Durant, may not be a credible witness due to prior inaccurate testimony.
The release came after pressure from media outlets and Sheriff Warren Wethington, who argued that the video’s disclosure was legally required and in the public’s interest.
“It’s pretty damning,” the sheriff said of the video.
Wethington noted that Smith didn’t activate his emergency lights and siren while speeding on Interstate 80 to catch up to Yakish, who had sped past Smith’s squad car.
Smith pursued Yakish to an off-ramp near West Liberty and then turned on his lights and siren. Yakish pulled over in a gas station parking lot promptly, got off his bike and put his hands up.
Smith ran at Yakish with his handgun in his right hand and pointed at the man. He used his left hand to strike Yakish in the helmet, knocking him down.
“There was absolutely no reason to point a gun at this kid and then to come up and strike him in the helmet,” Wethington said. “That kid was complying.”
Wethington said any of his deputies would be fired for such behavior. He praised the Iowa State Patrol for putting Smith on leave and investigating the stop, but its findings remain confidential.
Smith didn’t immediately return a cellphone message seeking comment.
Smith left the patrol after the investigation concluded in 2018, following a 30-year career. Smith has said he departed in good standing but the patrol hasn’t responded to questions about the investigation and Smith’s exit.
Smith was then hired in Durant, a town of 1,800 where his wife previously served as mayor. Residents there protested Smith’s use of force while arresting a woman outside of a bar last summer.
In May, Wethington said he wouldn’t book suspects arrested by Smith or his Durant colleagues, saying he couldn’t vouch for their credibility. Such suspects are being cited and released or taken to neighboring county jails. Smith’s wife, Dawn Smith, now chairwoman of the Cedar County Board of Supervisors, has accused the sheriff of issuing the ban to get revenge on her for political reasons. The sheriff denies that.
In a criminal complaint against Yakish, Smith didn’t mention his use of force and falsely claimed that Yakish “attempted a U-Turn in front of me” and that he had activated his lights and siren throughout the pursuit. Yakish admitted that he was speeding but said he didn’t know the trooper was trying to pull him over until the end.
Smith charged Yakish with eluding even though that requires a driver to be speeding 25 mph over the limit away from a police car that has turned on its lights and siren. Eluding is an aggravated misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison.
Cedar County Attorney Jeffrey Renander later downgraded the charge to reckless driving, saying it better fit the circumstances. Yakish paid a $250 fine.