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Stearns County closing investigation of Cold Spring police officer's murder

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Tom Decker
This family photo shows slain Cold Spring, Minn. police officer Tom Decker.
AP Photo | Family Photo via The St. Cloud Time

Nearly six years after the shooting death of Cold Spring Police Officer Tom Decker, Stearns County is officially closing the investigation.

Decker was killed behind a bar in Cold Spring in November 2012 as he and another officer arrived to conduct a welfare check at an upstairs apartment.

Former Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner left the case open even after authorities said Eric Thomes likely would have been arrested for the crime. Thomes killed himself in January 2013 as law enforcement sought to interview him.

Sanner retired in April 2017. He was replaced by current Sheriff Don Gudmundson, who asked Chief Deputy Jon Lentz to review the case.

The sheriff decided late last week to close the investigation, Lentz said.

"The reason we kept the case open was because of the way it ended with the suicide of Eric Thomes," Lentz said. "We were hopeful that maybe there was some more information out there. Maybe some other people would come forward with something they knew."

However, there's been no new information in the case, Lentz said. He said Thomes was the "main focus" of the investigation at the time, and investigators are confident that if they'd been able to question him again, "we would have been able to get some further answers, and potentially a resolution of this matter."

The closure is welcome news for Ryan Larson, said his attorney, Devon Jacob. Larson was arrested shortly after the shooting but was never charged. He sued Stearns County for violating his constitutional rights, along with media organizations he said defamed him.

"I think it's wonderful news," Jacob said. "It's something that should have happened about six years ago. Unfortunately, though, Stearns County decided to wait until now to do the right thing."

Jacob said the closing of the investigation underscores that Larson is innocent of any involvement in Decker's murder, and supports Larson's claims that he was improperly detained. Devon said Larson's lawsuit against the county will proceed to a verdict or a settlement.

"This closure of the criminal case, albeit six years late, is essentially an admission of Stearns County's wrongdoing," Devon said. "This case should have been closed a long time ago. They had no choice but to close it. They're doing the right thing now, which is good."