- Associated Press - Monday, November 21, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A Minnesota jury on Monday ruled against a man who sued two media organizations over news stories that named him as a suspect in the killing of a police officer.

Ryan Larson accused Twin Cities television station KARE-TV and the St. Cloud Times of defamation. Larson was arrested on suspicion of murder in the 2012 killing of a Cold Spring police officer but was released without charges.

Larson, 38, contended that KARE-TV and the Times went too far in reporting that authorities suspected him of ambushing and killing the officer. The media outlets argued their reporting was protected because it was based on information provided by law enforcement.

KARE general manager John Remes welcomed the verdict, saying the case was about the public’s right to know.

“We feel strongly that the public has a right to know information that is vital to keep the community safe and informed. We take this responsibility seriously and will continue to accurately report critical news and information,” Remes said after the verdict.

St. Cloud Times executive editor John Bodette said the newspaper’s reporting was based on police statements on an arrest in a crime “of paramount public interest.”

“It is a fundamental principle that journalists should be able to report upon the allegations of law enforcement without risking liability where suspects are later cleared by police,” Bodette said.

Larson’s attorney, Stephen Fiebiger, said Larson is disappointed by the verdict and is considering an appeal.

“His reputation has suffered,” Fiebiger told The Associated Press.

Last week Larson testified at the trial that after his arrest, “Any public life for me pretty much ceased to exist,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. In closing arguments, Fiebiger had asked jurors to award Larson a multi-million-dollar judgment for punitive and actual damages.

Officer Tom Decker, a 31-year-old father of four, was fatally shot Nov. 29, 2012, behind a bar in downtown Cold Spring, a small community about 65 miles northwest of Minneapolis. He was going to check on Larson, who lived above the bar and was reported to be possibly suicidal, when he was shot in what authorities described as an ambush.

Authorities announced the next day that Larson had been arrested, but said they were still investigating. He was released without being charged.

In January 2013, a man who’d been questioned in Decker’s death, Eric Thomes, killed himself as authorities were trying to re-interview him. They later said they would have had enough evidence to arrest him.

George Freeman, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, said he was pleased by the verdict but questioned why the judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed.

“It’s really the typical day-to-day reporting media does every day,” Freeman said.

Hennepin County Judge Susan Burke allowed the case to proceed earlier this year, saying some, but not all, statements made by law enforcement, such as Larson’s arrest, fell under the fair report privilege. However, she ruled, even if all of the statements were privileged, there’s still a question of whether the reporting was fair and accurate.

Larson, who moved away from Cold Spring, reached undisclosed settlements in earlier defamation claims against KSTP-TV, KSTC-TV, and WCCO television and radio.


Follow Jeff Baenen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jeffbaenen. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-baenen .


This story deletes reference to Gannett Co., which was dropped from the lawsuit, and corrects John Bodette title to executive editor of St. Cloud Times instead of executive director.

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