Report: Suspect in Iowa trooper's death may have goaded traffic stop
Michael Lang may have instigated the violent confrontation by goading an officer with whom he was angry to chase him
By Ryan J. Foley
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A man charged with killing an Iowa State Patrol sergeant during a standoff may have instigated the violent confrontation by goading an officer with whom he was angry to chase him, a police report shows.
Michael Lang sped by Grundy Center reserve officer Cody Niehaus on a main street in the small Iowa town on the evening of April 9, traveling 38 mph in a 25 mph zone, according to a summary of an interview Niehaus gave investigators.
Niehaus recognized Lang, who had a history of feuding with police, as he drove past the officer about one block from a Grundy Center bar, the report says. Niehaus had mailed Lang a trespassing citation days earlier for a March 31 incident in which Lang had returned to the bar, Scotty’s Saloon, despite having been banned for harassing behavior.
“Due to this incident, Niehaus thought Lang was upset at him and Lang knew that he was on duty and was trying to get Niehaus to pull him over,” according to the interview summary. “Niehaus initially hesitated whether or not to pull over Michael Lang but ultimately decided to initiate the traffic stop.”
The interview summary prepared by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation was recently made public in a court filing. It provides the most comprehensive account of the April 9 pursuit, which had been the subject of earlier incomplete and conflicting versions.
According to prosecutors, Lang shot and killed Sgt. Jim Smith less than two hours after Niehaus tried to pull him over for speeding.
Authorities say Lang fled from Niehaus, assaulted the officer after a high-speed chase, and returned to his Grundy Center home, where he barricaded himself inside. They say he fatally shot Smith, a 27-year patrol veteran, as Smith led a team of officers inside the home to arrest him.
A standoff continued for hours as two officers took cover in Lang’s basement. Troopers in an armored personnel carrier later entered the home after negotiations broke down, and they fired on Lang after he allegedly shot at them. Lang was shot three times in the head and chest but survived. A prosecutor ruled that the three troopers were justified in shooting Lang.
Lang, 41, is charged with first-degree murder in Smith's killing, attempted murder for allegedly firing at the troopers, and assault on a peace officer for allegedly choking Niehaus. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges. Prosecutors also recently added pursuit-related charges of eluding, speeding and driving without an interlock device, which Lang needed on his vehicle due to a history of drunken driving.
Lang is awaiting trial at the Black Hawk County Jail in Waterloo, where his lawyers say they have been unable to discuss the case with their client without the presence of deputies. A judge is considering whether to grant their request for access to Lang without the guards, which the sheriff says are needed for safety reasons. The defense is also expected to soon ask for a change of venue for trial out of Grundy County.
The new report describes how the traffic stop involving Lang and Niehaus quickly escalated.
Lang refused to stop the pickup truck he was driving after Niehaus activated his lights, and “took off at a high rate of speed,” the report says. Both vehicles reached speeds of 87 mph during the chase that ensued. Lang eventually got out of his vehicle on a rural road, approached Niehaus’ squad car and yelled at the officer “to shoot him multiple times.”
Niehaus told Lang that he didn’t want to shoot him, and Lang grabbed the officer’s radio as he was trying to call for backup. The two began pushing and shoving, and a bystander yelled at Lang to distract him.
Niehaus was able to fire his stun gun, but Lang pulled the probes from his body, ripped the device out of the officer’s hand, yanked Niehaus’ coat off of him and began choking him from behind, the report says.
The officer managed to get out of Lang’s grip and ran to the bystander’s vehicle, where he collapsed and told an arriving sheriff’s deputy that Lang had tried to kill him. The officer had trouble breathing, and a doctor told him during an emergency room visit that Lang’s choking had “possibly cut the blood supply” to his neck, the report says.
Smith was just the second Iowa trooper to be shot and killed in the line of duty since 1936.
Law enforcement officers pledge to serve the public and put their lives on the line daily. We collectively mourn the line of duty death of Sergeant Jim Smith on Friday, April 9, 2021.— Iowa State Patrol (@iowastatepatrol) April 10, 2021
Rest in Peace, Sergeant Smith...we have your 6 from here. @State_Troopers_ pic.twitter.com/ez8GAugkOQ