MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – A day before the funeral for a central Minnesota police officer killed in the line of duty, the man initially accused in the fatal shooting was released from jail after authorities said Tuesday they didn’t have enough evidence to file charges.
They vowed to keep investigating the slaying of Cold Spring Officer Tom Decker, and they asked the public to continue helping in the search for the 20-gauge shotgun believed to have been used in the shooting.
“Investigators will not rest until we fully determine what happened the night of Officer Decker’s death and bring to account those responsible,” said Drew Evans, assistant superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Decker, 31, was fatally shot late Thursday behind a downtown Cold Spring bar as he and his partner were checking on a man reported to be suicidal. Authorities had described the shooting as an ambush, though they offered no details.
Ryan Michael Larson, the 34-year-old man arrested roughly an hour after Decker was killed, walked out of jail shortly before noon Tuesday. The BCA and the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that prosecutors did not have “sufficient documented evidence” to continue holding him on suspicion of second-degree murder charges.
The Associated Press was unable to reach Larson for comment, and he did not appear to have an attorney. While jailed over the weekend, he told the St. Cloud Times that authorities had the wrong guy, and that he was asleep in his apartment above the bar when Decker was shot.
“Basically, they have no evidence whatsoever that points in my direction,” Larson told the newspaper. “They have no gun, they have no fingerprints, they have nothing.”
On the night of Decker’s death, police received a call from Larson’s family indicating he might be suicidal. Larson told the St. Cloud Times that his family had simply misinterpreted text messages he had sent, adding that he had met Decker a handful of times. He called Decker a “great guy.”
Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall said she could not comment on whether Larson was still a suspect, citing the active investigation.
Kendall explained that the legal standard to charge someone with a crime is higher than the standard to make an arrest. She said charges won’t be filed unless she believes a case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and there just isn’t enough evidence at this point.
When asked if the missing murder weapon was a factor, Kendall said: “It’s part of it, but it’s not the only factor.”
Kendall wanted to assure the public that authorities were doing everything they could, but stressed that many details couldn’t be released because it’s an active investigation.
Under state law, authorities have 36 hours once a suspect is in custody to file criminal charges. An extension can be granted if there is good cause _ and in this case, prosecutors were granted an extension until noon Tuesday.
Decker, a father of four, had been with the Cold Spring Police Department for six years. He grew up on a farm just south of Cold Spring, a city of roughly 4,000 residents about 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis. After graduating from college, he worked at several small Minnesota police departments before coming home for what he called his dream job on a force with only eight full-time officers.
Cold Spring Police Chief Phil Jones said last week that Decker had received repeated letters of commendation and appreciation.
A visitation for Decker was held Tuesday evening, and officials estimated that as many as 2,000 officers from around the country could attend his funeral Wednesday in nearby Collegeville.
A citizen-organized candlelight vigil attracted about 300 people Monday night, including several officers.
Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter:
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)