Officers' use of force 'justified and reasonable' in standoff that killed Iowa State Patrol sergeant, state review finds
A review by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office has found officers' use of force in a Grundy Center standoff that resulted in the death of an Iowa State Patrol trooper was justified and reasonable.
Sgt. Jim Smith, a 27-year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol, was shot and killed during an attempt to end an hours-long standoff with Michael Thomas Lang, 41, of Grundy Center, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
The review cleared the actions of Hardin County Sheriff’s Deputy Mitch Kappel and Iowa State Patrol troopers Josh Guhl, Matt Costello and Spencer Baltes, who all fired their weapons as they responded to the standoff earlier this month.
"Because of Lang’s actions, officers had no other reasonable choice but to shoot Lang. Otherwise, responding officers or innocent bystanders would have been put in harm’s way," assistant Iowa attorney general Scott Brown wrote in a letter to the Grundy County attorney Monday. "The actions of the officers who encountered Lang on April 9, 2021, were entirely legally justified."
At about 7:22 p.m. on Friday, April 9, Grundy Center police attempted to stop a vehicle driven by Lang, whom officers believed had been barred from driving. Lang instead fled, and a chase ensued.
Lang eventually pulled over, exited his vehicle and assaulted a Grundy Center police officer, officials said at the time, putting the officer in a chokehold and disarming the officer of his Taser and radio.
When a Grundy County sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene to assist the officer, Lang allegedly got back in his vehicle and drove to his home, where Lang's father warned officers that "his son had multiple firearms inside the residence, including a .410-caliber shotgun."
After establishing a perimeter around the home, an "entry team" consisting of Smith, Guhl, Costello, Baltes and Kappel arrived on the scene shortly before 9 p.m.
Officers announced themselves and entered the home, officials say. Smith was hit by gunfire as the entry team was "clearing" the upstairs of the house.
"Shortly after Sgt. Smith was shot, the Hardin County Sheriff’s Deputy who had been part of the entry team fired shots at Lang, but those shots did not hit him," the release said.
An Iowa State Patrol tactical team attempted to enter Lang's home with an armored personnel carrier shortly before midnight. According to the release, Lang shot multiple rounds at the personnel carrier, and troopers returned fire, striking him once in the head and twice in the chest before he was taken into custody, according to the release.
"Lang provided no other option to the officers who encountered him other than to utilize potentially deadly force against him," Brown wrote. "Lang was provided every opportunity to end the confrontation peacefully and chose not to do so."
Lang was taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City where he was initially listed in critical condition before being discharged Wednesday and taken into custody. In addition to first-degree murder, Lang also faces charges of:
- Attempted murder, for allegedly shooting at officers who had tried to make entry into Lang's home with a wheeled armored personnel carrier. Officers shot back and injured Lang, who was being treated at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics before being taken into police custody Wednesday.
- Assault on a peace officer, for allegedly disarming a Grundy Center officer of his Taser and radio and putting the officer in a chokehold during an April 9 traffic stop. After the traffic stop incident, Lang fled to his home, where the standoff occurred.
The Grundy County Attorney’s Office had requested that the Iowa Attorney General’s Office review the facts surrounding the actions that led up to and followed Smith's death. Each of the officers involved was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the review.
Lang is being held in the Black Hawk County Jail on $3 million cash bond. A public defender assigned to represent him declined to comment Monday when reached by the Associated Press.
Smith was the 11th trooper in Iowa State Patrol history to be killed in the line of duty and the first in almost 10 years, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety. The most recent previous death was on Sept. 20, 2011, when Trooper Mark Toney died in a car crash in Warren County as he attempted to make a traffic stop.
Smith was only the second Iowa trooper to die in a shooting in the line of duty. The first was Trooper Oran "Nanny" Pape, who was one of the "Original 50" Iowa patrolmen. He was shot and killed on April 29, 1936, by a suspect believed to have stolen a vehicle, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Read the Iowa Attorney General's Office opinion:
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