Officer who had sex with teenager fights his law enforcement decertification

By: - July 12, 2022 2:13 pm

An Iowa police officer who had sex with a 17-year-old girl is asking a judge to reinstate 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 is asking a judge to reinstate his certification as a law enforcement officer.

Jacob Smith, 31, who worked as a police officer for the cities of Sumner and Carroll, is seeking judicial review of last month’s decision by the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy to strip him of his law enforcement certification.

Court records indicate 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.

Smith was later denied unemployment benefits with an administrative law judge citing his “failure to take action when he saw underage individuals breaking the law by consuming alcohol.”

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 whom he had met while on duty.

According to a Times Herald report, Smith later admitted in a deposition that his relationship with the girl “wasn’t right” and that having sex with a 17-year-old “looks like s—.”

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 took steps to decertify Smith. The academy’s efforts were based on two theories: that Smith had voluntarily quit in Carroll when disciplinary action was imminent, and that he had committed an act of moral turpitude.

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

In his newly filed petition seeking judicial review of those decisions, Smith argues that the administrative law judge and the academy acted on findings that were “completely without support” and contrary to evidence in the record.

“While it is cited that Smith was in the company of a minor drinking alcohol, there was no evidence to suggest that this was at Smith’s home or that he provided the alcohol to the person,” the petition states. “Nothing in the record indicates that law enforcement are taught to vacate a location where it could be believed that minors are drinking, and nothing in the records supports that Smith should have arrested someone when he was imbibing in a lawful manner.

“The same is true in regard to the relationship with a 17-year-old woman. The age of consent in Iowa is 16 years of age. There is no cap on how much older one can be when having sexual relations with a 16- or 17-year-old … This is imposing an individual’s moral standards upon law enforcement, leading to arbitrarily enforced interpretation of rules depending on who is in charge.”

The court petition notes that Iowa law does not restrict the sexual relationships that police officers can enter into, as the law does with lawyers, counselors, therapists, nurses, physicians and school employees.

The petition also notes that “Smith was targeted” by the academy five years after the conduct he is accused of took place.  “If, on its face, it warranted decertifying, then it would have been taken up in 2017,” the petition states. “It is unclear why there was a lengthy delay in doing so.”

In the petition, Smith goes on to claim the academy council “relied on a newspaper article and a lawsuit that was filed by Smith that was unsuccessful” to make its case of moral turpitude.

“This case is similar to an officer that might have an affair on his spouse,” the petition states. “It might cause discord in the agency; it is frowned upon by some members of society; it could reflect poorly on the agency; but (it is) not illegal or conduct that demonstrates moral turpitude.”

In referring to the effect that the decertification will have on Smith’s ability to pursue a career in law enforcement, Smith’s lawyer told the court, “This was his livelihood and his career aspiration since he was a child.”

The academy has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.