116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WEBSTER CITY — The last moments of Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith’s life were captured on video.
On Tuesday, jurors watched the images as the state began presenting evidence in the trial of Michael Thomas Lang, 42, the man accused of shooting Smith, 51, with a shotgun during standoff at Lang’s Grundy Center home following a traffic stop for speeding and a chase in April 2021.
Smith, a trooper from Independence and the lead for a patrol tactical team that went inside to detain Lang when he wouldn’t come to the door, wasn’t equipped with a body camera. But a Grundy County sheriff’s deputy who was providing cover was.
The video shows officers standing inside Lang’s attached garage as they warned him they were about to send in a police dog and telling him he would get bit. There is barking, some yelling, officers calling out “Mike” and telling him to put his hands up.
Smith can be seen standing at the door to the house, his rifle raised. He backs up. The camera pans away as there is commotion. When it pans back, he’s on the ground.
“Shots fired, shots fired, send medical, send medical,” an officer yells.
Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand said deputies, troopers and police had announced their presence and had given Lang several opportunities to come to the door.
“This case is about a senseless killing,” he told jurors.
“Sgt. Smith is in the lit garage. … As he’s looking in that kitchen, the defendant is standing in the dark coming forward,” Hammerand said. He said Lang fired a 12-gauge slug into Smith’s chest, the round impacting around the shoulder strap for his body armor, near the collarbone area and tearing into his lungs.
“Sgt. Smith was able to get off, before he fell, two rounds from his gun,” Hammerand said.
A second blast from the pump-action shotgun hit Smith’s leg.
Another deputy fired a few rounds into the kitchen toward Lang, missing him.
Smith served with the Iowa State Patrol for 27 years. He was the second Iowa trooper ever to have been shot and killed in the line of duty. He is survived by a wife and two children. Smith was added last week to the Iowa Peace Officer Memorial in Des Moines, along with another trooper, Ted Benda of rural Decorah, who died in a crash while on duty.
Defense attorney Aaron Hawbaker told jurors Smith's death was tragic but didn't amount to murder.
He asked jurors to pay attention to the significant amount of time that passed between the traffic stop and when officers began to enter the house.
“During that entire time while they are surrounding his house, not a shot comes out a window. No attempt to harm a peace officer, no shots going through doors, no shots going through walls,” Hawbaker said. “The first two (shots) were when that kitchen door was opened. … Two shots, nothing more.”
He noted there was a second long lapse before officers began approaching with an armored vehicle and tried to rip the front off his house, and then there were two more shots.
Jurors also saw video from a second body camera Tuesday, this one showing what led up to the deadly standoff.
Officer Cody Niehaus with the Grundy Center Police Department said he was driving through town two hours earlier when Lang’s blue F150 pickup truck passed him on the town’s main drag doing 38 mph in a 25 mph zone.
A chase ensued, heading out into the country at speeds of 90 mph. Niehaus said Lang pulled over on a gravel road, exited and walked up to the squad car telling the officer to shoot him.
“Come on, boy,” Lang told Niehaus as they struggled, the officer testified. Niehaus said he used a Taser on Lang, but Lang pulled out the barbs and they went to the ground with Lang ending up behind him with his arm around the officer’s neck.
“I felt that my radio cord was wrapped around my neck. I wasn’t able to see what was going on because the defendant was behind me. All I knew was I could not breathe. I honestly thought at the moment I was going to die,” Niehaus said.
A passerby, Michael Dorothy of Waterloo, had followed the chase and intervened, giving Niehaus a chance to get to his feet. Sheriff’s Deputy Samuel Broome pulled up, and Lang drove off.
Earlier in the day, the judge ruled the defense attorneys can’t ask witnesses about whether law enforcement had warrants when they went to Lang’s home.
Defense attorneys indicated they would like to argue self-defense.
The state countered, requesting that the defense be precluded from inquiring about warrants, noting they weren’t needed because the original encounter — a struggle with a police officer during a traffic stop — was witnessed by law enforcement. The state also argued that the law doesn’t allow for the resistance of an arrest.
In a tentative ruling handed down Tuesday morning, Judge Joel Dalrymple said the warrant issue was a matter of law for the court to decide — not question to put in front of the jury.
Hawbaker asked if the defense could question witnesses if officers told Lang about any warrants or told him he was under arrest during the standoff.
The judge did allow for the defense to make “offers of proof,” which is testimony outside the presence of the jury, to allow the defense to make further argument and to preserve the record.
Lang is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder of a peace officer and assault of a person in certain occupations.
A jury of nine women and five men is hearing the case. It was moved from Grundy County to Webster County on a change of venue because of extensive pretrial publicity. The judge said the hearing could last into next week.