Minneapolis Police Insisted on ‘No Knock’ Warrant That Led to Amir Locke’s Shooting Death; City Announces Moratorium
Body camera footage of Minneapolis Police during a search warrant operation early Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, that ultimately led to the shooting of Amir Locke in Minneapolis, Minn. (City of Minneapolis)
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Friday placed a moratorium on no-knock warrants, following mounting community outrage over the predawn raid that ended in the shooting death of 22-year-old Amir Locke.
“No matter what information comes to light, it won’t change the fact that Amir Locke’s life was cut short,” Frey said in a statement. “To ensure safety of both the public and officers until a new policy is crafted, I’m issuing a moratorium on both the request and execution of such warrants in Minneapolis.”
The moratorium will remain in place pending a review of the MPD’s policy led by Prof. Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University and DeRay Mckesson, a former Minneapolis schools official turned prominent activist against police violence. The duo is credited with shaping reforms such as Breonna’s Law in Louisville, Ky., named for Breonna Taylor, who was killed during the execution of a similar no-knock warrant.
Frey’s announcement came hours after the revelation that St. Paul police initially applied for a standard search warrant in connection with an ongoing homicide investigation, but they were forced to resubmit the request after Minneapolis police insisted on a no-knock operation.
Locke, who was not a target of the investigation, was sleeping in the downtown Minneapolis apartment of a relative when members of a Minneapolis police SWAT team burst in shortly before 7 a.m. Wednesday. Footage from one of the officers’ body cameras showed police quietly unlock the apartment door with a key, before barging inside, yelling “Search warrant!” as Locke lay under a blanket on the couch. An officer kicked the couch, Locke stirred and was shot by officer Mark Hanneman within seconds as Locke held a firearm in his right hand.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office revealed Friday that Locke was shot multiple times and died 13 minutes later at HCMC. He was struck twice in the chest and once in the wrist.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Friday that he is partnering with Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office to review Locke’s death. Freeman said that his chief criminal deputy, Daniel Mabley, will lead his office’s role.
At an afternoon news conference surrounded by supporters, members of Locke’s family called for the prosecution and firing of Hanneman, while activists called for Interim Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman’s termination. Later in the evening, about 150 cars lined up around Minneapolis City Hall and the Hennepin County Government Center as protesters honked and waved signs demanding justice for Locke.
Locke’s death is the latest blow for the city’s embattled police force, which has struggled to repair its image in the nearly two years since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of one of its officers and the unrest that followed. The Locke case also has revived a debate about the use of no-knock search warrants, which critics say unnecessarily escalate encounters.
No-knock warrants, which allow police to enter a property without announcing their presence beforehand, have been banned in a number of cities across the country after they resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians. Minneapolis restricted the use of such unannounced raids in 2020, as part of a series of reforms in the wake of Floyd’s death. Frey has repeatedly claimed he banned no-knock warrants for “all but exigent circumstances.”
But court records suggest the practice continued.
A Star Tribune review of available court records found that MPD personnel have filed for, and obtained, at least 13 applications for no-knock or nighttime warrants since the start of the year — more than the 12 standard search warrants sought in that same span. At least another seven no-knock warrants have been carried out at Minneapolis addresses by other law enforcement agencies, notably the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. Those figures are almost certainly an undercount, because some warrant applications are filed under seal for various reasons — including the warrants that were filed in connection with the St. Paul homicide investigation. In the past, MPD executed an average of 139 no-knock warrants a year.
Minneapolis police carried out a similar surprise raid the day before Locke’s killing, during the arrest of two teenagers wanted in a shooting outside a Richfield school that left one student dead and another seriously injured.
A law enforcement source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case, said that St. Paul police filed standard applications for search warrant affidavits for three separate apartments at the Bolero Flats Apartment Homes, at 1117 S. Marquette Av., earlier this week.
But Minneapolis police demanded that, if their officers were to execute the search within its jurisdiction, St. Paul police first secure “no-knock” warrants instead. MPD would not have agreed to execute the search otherwise, according to the law enforcement source. St. Paul police very rarely execute no-knock warrants because they are considered high-risk. St. Paul police have not served such a warrant since 2016, said department spokesman Steve Linders.
St. Paul police acknowledged that it is standard practice to request assistance from neighboring agencies when a search is required outside city boundaries. Law enforcement often defer to the local police because they are thought to have more familiarity with the area and can move quickly to preserve evidence.
“Each agency has its own protocols and policies for serving search warrants,” Linders said, noting that a Hennepin County judge signed the warrants — which remain sealed — and Minneapolis executed the search. “The agency responsible for serving the warrant determines what tactics that will be used.”
He declined to discuss the ultimatum issued by Minneapolis police or elaborate on why St. Paul police satisfied demands for a no-knock operation when they don’t execute such warrants in their own city.
St. Paul-based defense attorney Paul Applebaum said judges tend to be deferential to law enforcement, signing off on no-knock warrants “without thinking about the potential repercussions if something goes wrong.”
“And this is what happens,” he said.
However, police have defended the use of no-knock raids as necessary for keeping officers safe and giving them a tactical advantage while apprehending violent suspects.
Under the current Minneapolis policy, officers must identify themselves as “police” and announce their purpose as “search warrant” before entering any domicile — regardless of whether a judge signed off on an “unannounced” or “no-knock” entry. Once inside a residence, officers are supposed to periodically repeat those announcements in case occupants didn’t hear them. The same rules, which mirror those in place in St. Paul, apply for arrest warrants.
The practice, most often used by SWAT officers, should help maintain the element of surprise and preservation of evidence while eliminating confusion about who’s entering the building, a police spokesman said at the time.
Policy dictates that no-knock warrants would be acceptable only in high-risk circumstances such as a hostage situation, when “giving an announcement would create an imminent threat of physical harm to victims, officers or the public.” Some exceptions apply, but investigators need to obtain permission from the chief of police or his or her designee.
The American Civil Liberties Union urged law enforcement agencies to ban no-knock warrants following the death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who was shot eight times by Kentucky police on March 13, 2020, after three narcotics officers used a no-knock warrant to break down the door of her apartment during a late-night drug investigation.
Her boyfriend mistook the raid for a home invasion and fired back, striking a detective. Police were looking for Taylor’s ex, who was already in custody. No drugs were found.
On Friday, the ACLU’s Minnesota office called on Minneapolis police to ban the use of no-knock warrants and to release the body camera footage of the other officers involved in the Locke case.
“It is the duty of police to de-escalate situations, and the ACLU of Minnesota is alarmed that MPD clearly failed in its duty in the police killing of Amir Locke. Bodycam footage clearly shows that police failed to ask Amir Locke to drop the gun, to warn that they’d shoot, or to take any other actions available to them while they were executing a search warrant,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Instead, an officer chose to shoot and kill a man sleeping on a couch, who was still wrapped up in a blanket, within 9 seconds of entering an apartment. A search warrant should not be an execution. Police should not be the judge, jury, and executioner.”
In Minnesota, the debate surrounding the use of these surprise raids has reached the Legislature, which passed new regulations on the raids as part of a broader public safety deal.
Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, who joined other activists in lobbying for a ban on the practice, said Thursday that Locke’s killing raises key questions about why police didn’t appear to know who was in the apartment and seemingly acted “without any checks and balances.”
“I think this underscores the need for statewide reform because of policing,” she said.
Also Friday, a leading state gun rights group contended that Locke acting legally when he armed himself as Minneapolis police SWAT officers rushed into the downtown apartment.
As seen in the video, “Mr. Locke appears to be sleeping on the couch during the execution of a no-knock warrant,” read a statement from Bryan Strawser, who chairs the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. “He is awoken with a confusing array of commands coming from multiple officers who are pointing lights and firearms at him.”
The Locke family has retained attorneys Ben Crump and Jeff Storms, who told reporters on Friday that they took issue with the MPD’s initial news release about the shooting. The lawyers contended that the release labeled Locke as a suspect in connection with St. Paul’s homicide search warrant even though interim Chief Huffman said that was not the case.
While the wording left that connection unclear, Storms said in an interview “the MPD wrote it, so I guess you’ll have to ask the city what they meant. Amir is a victim, not a suspect. … We believe that release was a deliberate attempt to publicly label Amir as a homicide suspect” to distract attention from the conduct of police.
Asked why Locke was referred to as a suspect at a news conference Thursday after the footage was released, Frey said he didn’t know. Huffman said that at the time the news release was issued, “we didn’t have as much information as we have now.”
This story has been updated.
— Star Tribune staff writer Alex Chhith contributed to this report.
This story is part of a collaboration with the Star Tribune through FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.