On November 29, 2012, at about 10:40 p.m., officers responded to a call at an apartment above the Winner’s Sports Bar in downtown Cold Spring, Minnesota. The apartment was occupied by Ryan Larson, a vocational technology college student. Larson’s mother had reported she was receiving texts from Larson that made her concerned that he might be suicidal; she requested police check on his welfare.
This was the second request to check the location. An officer had been to the location several hours earlier, but had not been able to get Larson to answer the door. This time, Officer Tom Decker responded as a cover officer. When Officer Decker arrived, his partner was already at the location, sitting inside his patrol car. Officer Decker pulled his squad car into the alley behind the bar and parked. He then stepped out of his patrol car and began to move towards the exterior steps leading to Larson’s apartment, holding his flashlight.
A suspect emerged from the shadows and fired a 20-gauge shotgun at Officer Decker, striking him twice in the head. However, the shooter was NOT Ryan Larson, the subject of the call to police. It was another man named Eric Thomes.
Thomes had been arrested three times in one year for DWI. On the night of the incident, he decided he would have his revenge on one of the officers who had arrested him. The officer he assassinated was Tom Decker, a good cop who didn't deserve to be killed. Thomes escaped, but as police closed in on him as the prime suspect over the coming weeks, he grew uneasy. On January 2, 2013, Thomes barricaded himself in a shed and committed suicide by hanging.
Officer Tom Decker's story is one of many that you probably do not know. I am getting close to finishing my book on 39 new line-of-duty murders of police officers that have occurred since January 1, 2012. Over and over, one factor continues to jump out at me as I learn the stories of these offenders and the officers they killed.
Would you like to learn the most common factor among cop-killers? It's not a history of violence, felony convictions, a certain race or age, or mental illness. The number one factor that cop-killers share in common is the use and abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs. Whether in their criminal histories or at the time of the offense, cop-killers are very often users, drinkers and addicts. Eric Thomes is an example of one of these impaired but ultra-violent offenders.
What does this finding mean to police officers? We need to pay even more attention to any reports of disturbances with alcohol or drugs involved. We need to ask family members who call the police: "Has John been drinking or using any drugs today?" We need to train for the unexpected and recognize that marijuana legalization is going to increase our exposure to the risks associated with managing drug-impaired and addicted populations of citizens. God bless all those who serve and protect others. Stay safe!
Last year, the book Officer Down 2012 examined sixty line-of-duty deaths of police officers that occurred in a single year. Officer Down 2013 is a new book examining thirty-nine new incidents, including the murder of Officer Tom Decker. OD13 will be available for sale in April.