Larry Oakes and Curt Brown, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
ST. CLOUD – Stearns County prosecutors have released Ryan Michael Larson without charges in the shooting of Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker.
Authorities determined there was not sufficient evidence to charge Larson, 34, who had been held in the Stearns County jail since midnight Thursday on suspicion of murder.
Larson was released from custody Tuesday pending further investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office.
“Our agencies have reviewed the investigative data collected thus far and must act within the time allotted by law, within the constraints of the law, and based upon the facts known at this time,” said Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall.
“We’ve been going around the clock,” she said. “Some of these are close calls. This one is not.”
She said all the agencies involved agreed more evidence was needed.
Authorities had alleged that Larson fatally shot Decker, 31, on Thursday night behind Winners Sports Bar below Larson’s apartment. Although some weapons have been recovered, authorities are still searching for a shotgun believed to have been used in the shooting.
Larson told the St. Cloud Times on Sunday that authorities have the wrong man.
“Basically, they have no evidence whatsoever that points in my direction,” Larson said during a phone call from Stearns County Jail. He added: “They have no gun, they have no fingerprints, they have nothing.”
During the 10-minute interview, Larson gave his account of activities on the day of the shooting from 8:30 a.m. to 8:17 p.m., when he said he went to sleep. He said his time on Thursday was filled with school, homework and visiting friends.
On Thursday night, before Decker was killed, Larson’s family members reportedly told police they were concerned for Larson’s well-being and asked officers to check on him.
“I did send a couple text messages to my parents letting them know that [Friday] was a big day,” Larson told the paper. Larson said the messages were meant to indicate that he’d be taking a new direction in school, not that he was going to harm himself. Larson is a student at St. Cloud Technical & Community College.
Decker and another officer were not immediately able to make contact with Larson. They returned about an hour and 45 minutes later, and it was then that Decker was ambushed and shot twice in the parking lot at Winner’s Bar, according to investigators. Larson lives in an apartment above the bar.
Larson insists he was sleeping at the time of the shooting and that authorities have arrested the wrong person.
“The next inkling I had that anything was going on out there was when search teams were coming down my hallway,” Larson told the Times.
Larson said he matched some elements of the description of the suspect and had weapons in his apartment, but he didn’t shoot Decker. He also said he doesn’t have an attorney because he can’t afford one.
Jeff Scoles, who with his parents owns Winners, told the Star Tribune Friday night that Larson had spent a good part of the day with him and seemed fine.
“He was normal,” Scoles said. “In fact, I thought he seemed like he was in was in a good mood.”
Scoles, who grew up in the same town as Larson — St. Joseph — and considered him a friend, said Larson had spent most of the day on Thursday at the family’s other Winners bar in Sartell, while Scoles worked and Larson did school work on a computer.
Larson told the Times he’d met Decker a handful of times while working as a bartender at Winner’s, calling Decker a “great guy.” He also spoke highly of the Cold Spring-Richmond Police Department, saying they were “made up with the greatest group of guys I’ve ever met in my life.”
Authorities say they are ramping up their investigation.
“We’re in the business of making sure that we convict guilty people and, at the same time, exonerate innocent folks,” Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Assistant Superintendent Drew Evans said. “We simply don’t have enough evidence to proceed at this time.”
Evans said authorities have doubled the number of agents in the Cold Spring area “and we will continue to ramp up as needed.”
He said agents are following up on “all kinds” of leads, but the search for the shotgun is the key.
“Obviously we are still looking for that weapon,” Evans said. “We will continue to search for it. We’ve been in the [Mississippi] River, we’ve had divers down, we’ve had submersibles down as well, but searching a river is an inexact science.”
He said there are no special security plans in place for Larson.
Anyone with information regarding this crime or the whereabouts of the 20-gauge shotgun believed to be the murder weapon is urged to contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at 30-251-4240.
A visitation for Decker was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Tuesday at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Cold Spring. Decker’s funeral, which is expected to draw hundreds of law enforcement personnel from across the region, is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. John’s Abbey and University Church in Collegeville.
Decker had been on the Cold Spring police force for six years. He grew up with seven siblings on a farm south of town. He is survived by his wife of 14 months, Alicia, and four young children from an previous marriage, all under 9 years old.