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Judge upholds state’s decision to decertify officer who had sex with teen

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Judge upholds state’s decision to decertify officer who had sex with teen

Jan 24, 2023 | 4:49 pm ET
By Clark Kauffman
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Judge upholds state’s decision to decertify officer who had sex with teen
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An Iowa police officer who resigned because of a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl has lost his bid to regain his certification as a law enforcement officer. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

An Iowa police officer who resigned because of a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl has lost his bid to regain his certification as a law enforcement officer.

Jacob Smith, 32, who worked as a police officer for the cities of Sumner and Carroll, filed a court petition last year seeking judicial review of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council’s decision to strip him of his law enforcement certification.

Smith argued his termination was not for good cause and so his subsequent decertification was unwarranted. District Court Judge Joseph Seidlin rejected that argument, ruling last week that that the evidence supported the council’s decision.

Smith first began working as a law enforcement officer when he was hired by the City of Sumner in January 2014. He remained employed there until May 4, 2015, when he was fired for actions unbecoming of a police officer.

The firing was tied to a video, posted to social media, that indicated Smith was drinking in the company of underage individuals while at a friend’s home. It was also alleged that he had sent inappropriate private messages on Facebook to a 16-year-old girl, according to a report by the Carroll Times Herald.

In September 2015, the City of Carroll hired Smith as a police officer. He remained there until July 2017, when he resigned amid allegations that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a 17-year- old girl he had met while on duty.

After the Times Herald published an article about Smith, he filed a libel lawsuit against the newspaper and reporter Jared Strong, who now works for the Iowa Capital Dispatch. District Judge Thomas Bice dismissed the case, ruling that the newspaper article was “accurate and true, and the underlying facts undisputed.”

In October 2021, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy initiated steps to decertify Smith. A hearing was held in December 2021, and in January 2022, an administrative law judge proposed that Smith’s certification be revoked. On June 2, 2022, Diane Venenga of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council affirmed the judge’s decision.

In appealing that decision to district court, Smith’s attorney argued “the age of consent in Iowa is 16 years of age,” and there was “no cap on how much older one can be when having sexual relations with a 16- or 17-year-old.”

In ruling against Smith, Judge Seidlin noted that Smith met the 17-year-old girl while interacting with her in his professional capacity as a police officer, then began an intimate relationship with her, with the girl moving in with Smith during her senior year of high school.

“Interestingly, the council found these facts from civil litigation previously before the Iowa District Court where Smith claimed libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false light invasion of privacy against a reporter for writing an article about his resignation and relationship,” Seidlin stated in his ruling.

Smith’s conduct, Seidlin added, “has been publicly associated with the department, as evidenced in the news article. Such implications can sow doubt in the minds of Carroll citizens.”

In his ruling, Seidlin also stated that the Carroll Police Department’s code of conduct requires officers to conduct their professional and private life in such a manner as to reflect credit on the department. Smith himself, Seidlin noted, had conceded in a deposition tied to the libel case that his relationship with the teenager “looks like s—” and “wasn’t right.”

The judge found the evidence in the case “fully supports the council’s application of the law to the facts in finding Smith’s conduct to be sufficient grounds for discretionary discharge.”