116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A former state trooper, who was going to stand trial next month for the second time on a charge of using unreasonable force on a motorcyclist during a 2017 traffic stop, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge this week.
Robert James Smith, 58, of Durant, pleaded guilty Monday to deprivation of rights under the color of law. He faces a maximum sentence of one year in federal prison, a $100,000 fine and one year of supervised release following any prison term.
According to the plea agreement, the defense and prosecution agreed to recommend Smith receive probation, but the judge can decide whether to accept that recommendation. Smith also understands he cannot withdraw his plea, no matter what sentence is imposed by U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams.
Williams declared a mistrial in July after a jury, following a four day trial, reported it couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict.
Smith, in the plea, admitted that on Sept. 25, 2017 he attempted to catch up with a motorcycle driven by Bryce Yakish, then 20, of Davenport, who was traveling at 84 mph westbound on Interstate 80. Yakish eventually exited and crossed the interstate southbound and Smith turned on the overhead lights and siren of his patrol vehicle. Yakish pulled into the entrance of the West Liberty Travel Plaza.
Yakish stopped and was getting off his motorcycle as Smith got out of vehicle and quickly approached him, he admitted in the plea. Yakish was standing next to his motorcycle and had his hands in the air when Smith hit Yakish in the chin area with an open hand palm strike. Yakish was wearing a helmet with a face mask but the force of the strike caused Yakish to fall backward over his motorcycle.
Smith pulled Yakish up off the cycle and then put him face down on the ground and knelt on Yakish’s shoulder/neck area until he handcuffed him, the plea stated.
In the plea, the former trooper admitted he struck Yakish willfully and did so with a “bad purpose or improper motive to disobey or disregard the law, specifically intending to deprive (Yakish) of the right to be free from unreasonable force.”
Smith also admitted that he wrote a report on or about Sept. 25, 2017 and asserted the strike to Yakish was not intentional. He said he intended to “take a hold of his shoulder but came into contact with the front side of his helmet.”
Smith testified twice that the contact wasn’t intentional — on Sept. 8, 2020 during a civil trial and during his criminal trial on July 20 — both times under oath, according to the plea. Smith admits in this plea that the strike was intentional.
The former trooper is the first law enforcement officer charged in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa in years, according to prosecutors.
Smith was terminated from the Iowa State Patrol following an internal investigation of the arrest and allowed to retire in 2018, according to testimony.
A video of the incident was shown to the jury throughout the trial. It showed Yakish getting off his motorcycle and raising his hands as Smith was coming at him with his gun pulled.
Smith struck the right front of Yakish’s helmet with his left hand — an open palm strike, which officers are trained to use as a defensive tactic if someone is resisting and not being compliant. Yakish’s head snapped back, and he fell backward onto his motorcycle, which also fell over.
Smith said he got out of his vehicle and approached Yakish with his gun drawn because he had safety concerns. He admitted he didn’t give any commands as he approached.
Yakish, now 25, testified he didn’t see Smith until he pulled off to go to the gas station and then saw the lights and sirens on the trooper’s vehicle. Yakish said he motioned with his left hand — taking if off the clutch — where he was going to stop.
During the trial, Smith’s former supervisors, who are still with the Iowa State Patrol, testified they reviewed his report and dashcam video and took it up the command chain because Smith was holding his handgun and used an open palm strike on a compliant motorist.
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