Iowa to pay $225,000 to settle lawsuit over trooper's force

Iowa will pay $225,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who was injured when a state trooper knocked him over and put his knee on his neck during a 2017 traffic stop

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa will pay $225,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who was injured when a state trooper knocked him over and put his knee on his neck during a 2017 traffic stop, according to documents released Monday.

The payment to Bryce Yakish ends a lawsuit he filed against the state and former Iowa State Patrol trooper Robert Smith in 2019, months after a sheriff released dash camera video of the arrest. The lawsuit alleged that Smith assaulted and falsely arrested Yakish, lying about what happened.

The case also prompted scrutiny into other allegations of misconduct against Smith, who left the patrol in 2018 after a 30-year career. He was later hired as an officer in the small town of Durant, but resigned after the video's release. Smith was also accused of using excessive force against a woman during an arrest in Durant.

Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington released the video in 2019 after announcing that he would no longer book any suspects arrested by Smith at his jail because he could not vouch for the officer's credibility. Prosecutors also dismissed several cases brought by Smith, saying he was no longer a credible witness.

Wethington said Monday that federal agents contacted him during an investigation of Smith, and that the inquiry appears to remain open. Federal court documents show a grand jury has been investigating allegations of civil rights violations against an unidentified trooper.

One of Yakish's attorneys, Martin Diaz, said the state produced Smith's personnel file during the litigation but declined comment on its contents, saying they are subject to a confidentiality order.

Diaz praised the state for settling the case.

“I think the behavior of the trooper in this case was so over the top that we just didn’t get the pushback we normally would,” he said. “The state recognized it had a problem and I think the resolution is a good one.”

The video shows Smith pulling Yakish over for speeding on his motorcycle on Sept. 25, 2017, at a gas station off of Interstate 80 near West Liberty. What appears to be a routine stop escalates immediately when Smith runs from his car with his gun drawn and pointed at Yakish, who was 20 at the time.

Smith uses his left hand to strike the face shield of Yakish's helmet, knocking him backward onto his motorcycle. Yakish and the vehicle fall to the ground. Smith briefly puts his knee on Yakish's neck while handcuffing him, the lawsuit alleged. Yakish is repeatedly heard complaining of neck pain.

Smith falsely accused Yakish of trying to flee and charged him with eluding law enforcement, even though Yakish stopped immediately after Smith activated his patrol car's lights and siren. That charge was dropped after a prosecutor reviewed the video and concluded it was baseless.

Yakish lost his license because of the arrest, his motorcycle was impounded and he spent the night in jail. The lawsuit said a chiropractor later treated him for neck pain.

The Iowa attorney general’s office represented Smith because he was on duty at the time, and the State Appeal Board last month approved using general tax funds for the $225,000 payout.

Solicitor General Jeff Thompson said at that meeting that it was in the state's “best interest to resolve the claim,” noting that the state faced “some difficulty on the liability side” and could be required to pay Yakish's attorneys fees if it lost at trial.

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AP reporter David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this story.