By Reg Chapman

COLD SPRING, Minn. (WCCO) — The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office said they have released the man who was arrested after the shooting death of a Cold Spring Police officer last week.

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Authorities said that “at this time there is not sufficient documented evidence” to retain a hold on 34-year-old Ryan Larson. He was released at about noon on Tuesday.

Officer Tom Decker, a six-year veteran of the police department and a father of four, was shot twice in the parking lot of Winner’s Sports Bar & Grill in Cold Spring last Thursday night. Larson was arrested about an hour later in his apartment above the bar. At the time of the shooting, investigators called it an ambush killing.

The Stearns County Attorney’s Office had initially been given an extension to file charges in this case or let the suspect out of jail.

“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,” Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall said Tuesday.

The mood amongst those grieving on Tuesday was also one of frustration and anger. While Larson is insisting he is innocent, there are many people upset over his release.

“I think it’s crap letting him walk, letting him go home to his family,” Decker’s former brother-in-law Rickey Pierscalla said.

As Decker’s casket was brought to St. Boniface Catholic Church for a visitation, flags waived, mourners began to gather and friends expressed shock.

Julie Hofer, a friend of Decker’s, said, “I hope they do everything in their power to find out what happened that night.”

The sister and brother of Decker’s ex-wife came to the jail hoping to confront Larson as he was being released. But they did not see him because he was driven out of the jail by sheriff’s deputies.

“I know my sister is very worried that he is out there right now,” Decker’s former sister-in-law Roxie Knowles said. “She is worried for her kids’ safety because, if it is someone who had something against Tom Decker himself, who is to say he is not going to go after family members?”

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In a Sunday interview with the St. Cloud Times, Larson insisted he is innocent and that he was sleeping in his apartment just above the Cold Spring Bar when the shooting happened.

“They have no evidence whatsoever that points in my direction,” Larson said in the interview. “They have no gun, they have no fingerprints, they have nothing.”

Larson’s mother called prominent Twin Cities defense attorney Joel Friedberg Tuesday. Friedberg is not Larson’s lawyer, but said the case against Larson is weak. His main point: Larson never knew police were coming, because his family called for a welfare check.

Friedberg says that makes it unlikely Larson would have been waiting to ambush Decker.

The county sheriff’s office said the investigation remains ongoing.

“Investigators will not rest until we fully determine what happened the night of Officer Decker’s death and bring to account those responsible,” Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Assistant Superintendent Drew Evans said.

BCA spokesperson Jill Oliveira said Larson’s escort from the jail by deputies is standard police procedure when a suicidal — or potentially suicidal — suspect is released; he was taken to St. Cloud Hospital to get help if he chooses.

As for whether Larson is still a suspect, Oliveira said no one is being ruled out. Still, some now believe this investigation is starting from square one.

Authorities are still seeking the 20-gauge shotgun believed used in the shooting. Anyone with information about the murder weapon is asked to contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at 320-251-4240.

Decker’s funeral will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. John’s Abbey and University Church in Collegeville, where thousands are expected to pay their respects.

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On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Mark Dayton ordered flags to be flown at half-staff to honor Decker until sunset Wednesday.

Reg Chapman