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Jury Convicts Gunman Who Murdered Iowa State Trooper During Standoff

Webster City, IA – The gunman who murdered Iowa State Patrol Sergeant James Smith during a lengthy standoff in 2021 was convicted by a jury on Monday.

Michael Lang, 42, was found guilty on charges of first-degree murder, assault, and attempted murder after just over two hours of deliberation, the Des Moines Register reported.

Lang, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the position of Grundy County Sheriff in 2020, now faces life in prison.

His attorney, Aaron Hawbaker, argued that his client was just trying to defend himself and claimed the fatal shooting was “at best…a form of manslaughter,” the Des Moines Register reported.

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand vehemently disagreed.

“The defendant had time to think about it, weigh in his mind what he was going to do, and he made that decision,” Hammerand told the jurors, according to the Des Moines Register. “When you take a loaded shotgun … and you shoot someone in the chest, is that a fixed purpose or design to do harm to another? Absolutely.”

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office previously determined that officers’ use of force during the armed standoff was justified and that they acted reasonably throughout the encounter, the Des Moines Register reported.

“Because of Lang’s actions, officers had no other reasonable choice but to shoot Lang,” Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown said in a letter to the Grundy County Attorney’s Office after reviewing the case. “Otherwise, responding officers or innocent bystanders would have been put in harm’s way.”

Lang’s sentencing date has not been set, the Des Moines Register reported.

The incident began at approximately 7:22 p.m. on April 9, 2021, when a Grundy Center Police Department (GCPD) officer spotted 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 was listed in critical condition, but eventually recovered, KCRG reported.

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

The 51-year-old, 27-year veteran-of-the-force had been shot twice, KCCI reported.

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

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 on April 1, 2021, according to the paper.

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.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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