Review: Officers’ Use of Force in Grundy Center Standoff Was ‘Justified’

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GRUNDY CENTER, Iowa — The Iowa Attorney General’s Office determined the officers’ use of deadly force against the man accused of killing Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith during a standoff in Grundy Center was “reasonable and legally justified.”

Smith, a 27-year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol, was shot and killed attempting to arrest 41-year-old Michael Lang, who barricaded himself inside his residence in Grundy Center the evening of April 9, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Officers were attempting to arrest Lang after he was involved in a traffic stop and allegedly assaulted a Grundy Center police officer. Officers pursued Lang back to his home and established a perimeter around his residence.

When Smith entered the residence through the garage to arrest Lang, he was accompanied by three Iowa State Patrol troopers and a Hardin County Sheriff’s deputy, authorities said.

“Officers announced their presence and that a canine would be introduced into the home. Shortly after the announcement, Sgt. Smith neared the doorway into the home, he stated that he observed a gun. Just after doing so, Sgt. Smith was shot once in the upper body and immediately fell to the floor. Sgt. Smith was shot in the leg while on the floor,” said Special Assistant Attorney General Scott D. Brown with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

Shortly after Smith was shot, the Hardin County Sheriff’s deputy who was part of the entry team fired shots at Lang but did not hit him, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

“Lang made numerous admissions that can be overheard by officers admitting to the shooting and threatening to do the same to other officers,” said Brown.

After about two hours, Lang allegedly refused to surrender, so an Iowa State Patrol Tactical Team broke into Lang’s home using an armored vehicle. “As they did so Lang began firing at the vehicle containing several officers. Officers returned fire striking Lang once in the head and twice in the chest,” Brown said.

Lang was transported to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and underwent surgery. He was released from the hospital on April 21 and immediately transported to the Grundy County Jail where he was booked on charges including first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault on a peace officer.

The names of the officers who shot at Lang during the overall incident are:

  • Hardin County Sheriff’s Deputy Mitch Kappel, a 13-year veteran of the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office
  • Trooper Josh Guhl, a 13-year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol
  • Trooper Matt Costello, a 17-year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol
  • Trooper Spencer Baltes, a 4-year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol

All four officers were put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into the shooting, the Iowa Department of Public Safety said.

The Grundy County Attorney’s Office requested that the Iowa Attorney General’s Office review the shooting to determine whether the officers’ use of force against Lang was legally justified. Car and body camera video was used to review the incident.

“The actions of the officers who encountered Lang on April 9, 2021, were entirely legally justified,” Brown said. “Lang used and continue to threaten deadly force during his entire interactions with law enforcement. Lang provided no other option to the officers who encountered him other than to utilize potentially deadly force against him. Lang was provided every opportunity to end the confrontation peacefully and chose not to do so. The decision to fire at Lang by each officer was reasonable and legally justified under the circumstances.”

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