Breaking: Lang charged with first degree murder after death of state trooper in Grundy Center

Officers move on the scene of the standoff in Grundy Center on Friday night. More details will be released as they become available. (Robert Maharry/The Grundy Register photo)
Robert Maharry
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY CENTER- Sergeant Jim Smith of the Iowa State Patrol was shot and killed during a standoff at a G Avenue residence in Grundy Center on Friday night, and Grundy Center man Michael Thomas Lang has been charged with first degree murder in connection with his death. 


During a press conference held within the Grundy Center High School commons area on Saturday afternoon, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Director Mitch Mortvedt described a chain of events that commenced when a Grundy Center police officer attempted to stop Lang, 41, for driving while barred at approximately 7:22 p.m. According to Mortvedt, Lang fled the area and drove southeast of town before pulling over on 250th Avenue, exiting his vehicle, assaulting and eventually disarming the officer (who has not yet been identified), and yelling "Shoot me" multiple times. Lang allegedly stole the officer's taser, removed his radio and put him in a chokehold. 


A Grundy County sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene to provide assistance and commanded Lang to put his hands up. According to Mortvedt, he did not comply and yelled "Come get me." Lang then fled the area and returned to his residence at 305 G Avenue, entering through his garage and barricading himself inside the house. Lang's father Thomas informed law enforcement officers that his son had multiple firearms inside of the residence including a .410 shotgun. At around 8:55 p.m., four state troopers, a Hardin County deputy and a K-9 unit from Hardin County entered the residence through the door of the garage and identified themselves as law enforcement. Smith was then hit by a single shot inside of the residence, and two members of the entry team retreated into the basement while the other two pulled him out of the residence. He was eventually transferred to Grundy County Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 


According to the official report, Lang emerged from the doorway holding a black pump action shotgun and later made several statements bragging about shooting Smith and wanting to shoot more police officers.


"I will assure you that the Grundy Center police officer and the Grundy County deputy that responded acted with professionalism, just like Sgt. Smith," Mortvedt said. 


Lang remained barricaded inside of the house and refused to come out until approximately 11:50 p.m., when an armored personnel carrier vehicle with a ram moved toward the house in an attempt to extract him, and gunshots were fired from both sides. Lang allegedly fired first, and when members of the state patrol's tactical team returned fire, they struck him multiple times. 


The police presence was focused around Lang's residence for nearly four hours, and at least 30 officers from Grundy Center, Grundy County, Hardin County, Cedar Falls, Waterloo and other agencies along with several state troopers all arrived on the scene and surrounded the home. A large crowd of spectators gathered in the immediate vicinity, and most were instructed to move further away from the house or stay inside.


At approximately 11:30 on Friday night, a source told The Grundy Register that police radio indicated a suspect had been taken into custody and was transported to the Hardin County Jail, but eyewitnesses added that it was not the primary suspect who was arrested. Hardin County Sheriff Dave McDaniel said that the man was arrested on unrelated charges. Lang was eventually transported to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for surgery and is listed in critical condition. Mortvedt announced during the press conference that Lang had been charged with one count of First Degree Murder and was being held on $1 million cash bond, and trial arrangements are pending. The investigation is ongoing. 


Lang, who unsuccessfully ran for Grundy County Sheriff as a Democrat in 2020 and received 22.3 percent of the votes cast, has a long list of previous criminal convictions. He was twice charged with a felony in Grundy County-- once for third offense OWI in 2009 and once for Third Degree Burglary in 1999-- but on both occasions, he pled down to aggravated misdemeanor adjudications. In response to a question about how Lang had managed to stockpile so many weapons, Mortvedt answered that the DCI did not yet have that information, and it would be part of the investigation. On April 1, the Grundy Center Police Department charged Lang with first offense Trespass, a scheduled violation under Iowa law. 


Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens spoke first at the press conference on Saturday afternoon and focused his comments on the life and service of Sgt. Smith, a 27-year veteran of the force who was stationed out of Oelwein and resided in Independence. 


"I'm going to keep saying his name until his sacrifice is seared upon the hearts of anyone that can hear my voice," Bayens said. "Conversely, a name you will never hear come from my lips is the name of the man who stole Jim's life with his cowardice. His name does not deserve to be uttered in the same breath as Sgt. Jim Smith, and the men and women of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the Division of Criminal Investigation and the Iowa State Patrol will do everything in their power to make sure that man is held to account." 


Bayens added that both he and the troopers and local law enforcement officers in attendance were "hurting" and "angry," but not broken. 


"We will continue to stand at the gap of good and evil that led Jim. That is what we're called to do, but we're not robots. We hurt, we bleed, we cry. We sought the comfort of our loved ones last night as we mourn the loss of our brother," Bayens said. "We're not immune to this world. We're human, and we need the support of our communities in times like this." 


Smith is the 11th state trooper to die in the line of duty and the first since Trooper Mark Toney in 2011. 


Grundy County Sheriff Kirk Dolleslager and Grundy Center Police Chief Doug Frost declined any further comments after the press conference, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation. 




The Grundy Register

601 G. Avenue - P.O. Box 245
Grundy Center, IA 50638
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