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Hero Down: Iowa State Patrol Sgt. James ‘Jim’ Smith Murdered By Gunman

Grundy Center, IA – Iowa State Patrol (ISP) Sergeant James “Jim” Smith was murdered in the line of duty on April 9 while trying to apprehend a suspect who had attacked and disarmed a Grundy Center police officer earlier in the day.

The incident began at approximately 7:22 p.m. on April 9, when a Grundy Center Police Department (GCPD) officer spotted 41-year-old Michael Thomas Lang driving a vehicle when he was prohibited from doing so, the Huffington Post reported.

Police said Lang is well-known to the GCPD.

Lang initially fled from police to an area southeast of town, KCRG reported.

He then stopped his car and allegedly got out and attacked the GCPD officer who had been pursuing him, police said.

The officer said Lang yelled “Shoot me!” over and over as he took the officer’s radio, Taser, and duty weapon and placed him in a chokehold, the Huffington Post reported.

The suspect was still in the area of the officer’s patrol car when a Grundy County deputy pulled up at the scene.

The deputy saw the officer trying to recover from the attack and quickly drew his weapon and ordered Lang to put his hands up, KCRG reported.

“Come get me!” Lang yelled as he jumped back into his vehicle, according to the deputy.

The deputy chased the fleeing suspect into Grundy Center, where he lost sight of him.

He headed over to Lang’s home at 305 G Avenue just in time to see the suspect exiting his vehicle and heading into his house, KCRG reported.

At least 30 officers from multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the scene and set up a perimeter around Lang’s house, according to The Grundy Register.

His father went to the scene and warned police that Lang had multiple firearms inside, KCRG reported.

Four ISP officers and a Hardin County Sheriff’s Deputy K9 unit made entry to the residence at 8:55 p.m., according to police.

As they were clearing the upstairs area, the suspect allegedly opened fire, hitting Sgt. Smith, KCRG reported.

The other officers said they saw Lang emerge from a room carrying a pump-action shotgun a moment later.

The fallen sergeant’s fellow officers pulled him to safety outside while two of the ISP officers sought shelter in the basement, KCRG reported.

The gunman then barricaded himself inside the home.

The officers who were still inside said they heard Lang bragging about having shot Sgt. Smith and saying he wanted to shoot more law enforcement officers.

The standoff continued for hours, KCRG reported.

An ISP tactical team with an armored personnel carrier forced its way into the house at approximately 11:50 p.m.

Lang allegedly opened fire on the personnel carrier as they entered.

Three officers on the tactical team returned fire, shooting the suspect multiple times, KCRG reported.

The gunman was subsequently taken into custody and transported to the University of Iowa Hospital.

He underwent surgery and is listed in critical condition, KCRG reported.

Sgt. Smith was rushed to Grundy County Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The 27-year veteran-of-the-force had been shot once, KCRG reported.

No other officers were injured during the confrontation at Lang’s home.

Lang has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Sgt. Smith, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Director Mitch Mortvedt said during a press conference on Saturday afternoon, according to The Grundy Register.

His bond was set at $1 million.

Lang, a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully for the position of Grundy County Sheriff in 2020, The Grundy Register reported.

He received just 22.3 percent of the vote.

Lang had previously been charged with felony burglary and felony third-offense drunk driving in two separate incidents, but both cases were pled down to aggravated misdemeanors, The Grundy Register reported.

He was charged for misdemeanor trespassing by the GCPD as recently as April 1, according to the paper.

Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) Commissioner Stephan Bayens refused to utter the suspect’s name during a press conference on Saturday afternoon, The Grundy Register reported.

“I’m going to keep saying [Sgt. Jim Smith’s] name until his sacrifice is seared upon the hearts of anyone that can hear my voice,” Commissioner 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.”

He said Sgt. Smith “sacrificed himself” while protecting others, and that he “died a hero,” the Huffington Post reported.

“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,” the commissioner added, according to The Grundy Register.

“We are hurting, we are angry, but rest assured we’re not broken,” Commissioner Bayens said, according to the Huffington Post. “We will continue to shoulder the burdens of our communities while carrying our own. We will continue to stand in the gap of good and evil because, like Jim, that is what we are called to do.”

Sgt. Smith leaves behind his wife and two children, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said in a statement, according to KCRG.

Reynolds described the fallen sergeant as a “courageous hero” who was also “a pillar of the community.”

“I along with the entire state of Iowa grieve for his family and friends as they try to cope with this devastating loss,” the governor said. “Today we are once again reminded of the selfless sacrifices the brave men and women in uniform make. Let us never forget their bravery and that of their loved ones.”

Reynolds has ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of Sgt. Smith.

Sgt. Smith graduated from the Department of Public Safety’s 19th Basic Academy in 1993, the ISP said in a Facebook post in 2018.

He was subsequently assigned to District 13 in Fairfield, and was later relocated to District 10 in Oelwein.

“Trooper Jim Smith is proud and humbled by his position as an Iowa State Trooper,” the ISP’s 2018 post read. “He consistently performs his duties everyday with the motoring public safety his number one priority, along with having the ‘I can make a difference’ mindset.”

“Trooper Smith goes above and beyond expectations and is a positive role model for his fellow officers,” the agency said. “He has taken on the role of leader with the Area C Tactical Team, devoting time on and off duty, to complete the tactical team mission.”

A law enforcement processional escorted Sgt. Smith’s body on Sunday from the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s Office in Ankeny to Independence, where he lived, KWWL reported.

“I was saddened to learn of the death of Sgt. Jim Smith,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said in a statement, according to KCRG. “He was a dedicated public servant and courageous law enforcement officer. My heart goes out to his family and friends, as well as to his colleagues on the Iowa State Patrol.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Iowa State Patrol Sergeant James “Jim” Smith, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.

Iowa State Patrol Sergeant James Smith, your life mattered.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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