Slain Cold Spring officer's partner backed away

  • Article by: LARRY OAKES and PAUL MCENROE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2012 - 10:53 PM

A document chronicles events of the night that officer Thomas Decker was shot and raises questions about the second cop's reaction.

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Cold Spring police officer Thomas Decker

The officer who was on a call with Cold Spring police officer Thomas Decker when he was killed in late November didn't leave his squad car in the seconds after the shooting and didn't aid Decker or pursue the shooter as he walked away, according to a document that was used to justify jailing a now-released suspect.

In the moments after the killing, officer Greg Reiter, a licensed police officer working part-time for the Cold Spring department, put his car into reverse and backed eastward away from the handgun-wielding shooter, the document said, adding that the shooter walked west.

"Officer Reiter then lost visual contact," the document said.

Reiter, 39, who lives in St. Joseph and runs a drywall business in addition to police work, did not answer his door Friday and did not respond to messages left by note, telephone and social media.

Sources have said the officer may have "froze" instead of pursuing the killer and has not been able to recount many details of what happened the night of Nov. 29 in an alley behind a sports bar in downtown Cold Spring. One source close to the investigation said this week that the officer's incomplete recollections had been a "critical roadblock" to solving the case.

Decker, a 10-year police veteran, was killed by a shotgun blast to the head while helping Reiter check the welfare of Ryan Larson, a reportedly depressed man who lived above the tavern and whom police arrested later that night.

The document, obtained by the Star Tribune, outlines for the first time the official chronology that was used by law enforcement to convince a Stearns County judge to detain Larson in jail pending murder charges. He was released five days later after police and prosecutors agreed they didn't have the evidence to support filing charges.

Though the document sheds new light on events surrounding the shooting, it also conflicts with some of the scant information already released by law enforcement, such as their request that the public help look for a 20-gauge shotgun they believe was used to shoot Decker twice.

The document states Reiter saw the killer pointing a handgun and states Larson had a handgun next to him on his bed when he was arrested at 12:15 a.m. Nov. 30.

Misleading a judge?

State records show Reiter is a fully licensed police officer with no record of discipline. He posted on his Facebook page in October that he has worked part-time for Cold Spring for almost two years and part-time for Kimball for about eight months. The father of three grew up in Eden Valley and graduated in 2010 from Alexandria Technical College, his page also states.

Cold Spring Police Chief Phil Jones did not return a phone message requesting comment about Reiter's actions. Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said the agency couldn't comment on an active investigation.

Joe Friedberg, the Minneapolis attorney Larson retained Thursday, said the document is inconsistent with other statements by law enforcement and raises more questions than it answers.

Friedberg said that authorities appear to have misled the judge by presenting a document that cast suspicion on Larson when investigators actually had very little evidence to justify holding him in custody.

"They [created] a misleading document to keep him in jail," Friedberg said. "They have zero evidence that Larson had anything to do with this. When you leave out that it's a shotgun [that killed Decker], you're misleading the judge."

The document revealed for the first time that it was Reiter who first tried to do a welfare check on Larson and that Reiter did not make contact. A request to locate Larson was put out to other agencies, the document said, but Reiter returned at 10:35 p.m. and asked Decker to back him up.

Friedberg said it raises the question of whether Reiter even tried to find Larson on his first visit.

"If he had knocked on the door, Larson would have answered it," said Friedberg, who denied that his client, though somewhat depressed, had threatened to kill himself or anyone else.

The document said Reiter stayed in his car when Decker arrived and "immediately" began walking toward the stairway leading up to Larson's apartment.

"Officer Reiter, still seated in the squad car, then heard two loud 'bangs,''' the document states, adding that Reiter reported he saw a 6-foot-tall white man in a hooded sweatshirt, jeans and dark stocking cap standing in front of Decker's squad car and pointing a handgun "at him," though it's unclear whether "him" referred to Decker or Reiter.

"Reiter then put his squad car in reverse, exiting the parking lot to the east," the document states. "Reiter could see officer Decker lying on the ground, and the male suspect walking away to the west. Reiter then lost visual contact."

Friedberg questioned why Reiter, in the document, remembers some details but not others and why some of his recollections don't fit other information authorities have released.

For example, Reiter described how he watched the suspect walk away just before other officers arrived, but the document doesn't explain how Larson, if he was the killer, could have gotten past all those officers to get back inside his apartment, where SWAT team officers arrested him 1 1/2 hours later.

The document said that in Larson's apartment, officers found not only a handgun but also a hooded sweatshirt like the one Reiter reported seeing on the suspect. They also found surveillance equipment that enabled Larson to watch the parking lot, the document said. Friedberg said the bar owners gave Larson that equipment to help him keep an eye on the property for security reasons.

Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report.

loakes@startribune.com 612-673-1751 pmcenroe@startribune.com 612-673-1745

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