MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota prosecutors declined to file charges Wednesday against a Minneapolis police SWAT team officer who fatally shot Amir Locke while executing an early morning no-knock search warrant in a downtown apartment in February.
Locke, 22, who was Black, was staying on a couch in the apartment when authorities entered it on Feb. 2 without knocking as part of an investigation into a homicide in neighboring St. Paul.
His parents have said that from what they saw of the police body camera footage, it appeared that their son was startled awake. His mother, Karen Wells, has called his death “an execution.” Their attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Locke, who was not named in the warrant, was shot seconds after authorities say he pointed a gun in the direction of officers. Locke’s family has questioned that. The body camera footage shows Locke holding a gun before he was shot.
Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, whose offices reviewed the case, said they determined that Officer Mark Hanneman was justified in firing his weapon.
“There is insufficient admissible evidence to file criminal charges in this case. Specifically, the State would be unable to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt any of the elements of Minnesota’s use-of-deadly-force statute that authorizes the use of force by Officer Hanneman,” Ellison and Freeman said in a joint statement.
Locke’s death came as three former Minneapolis police officers were on trial in federal court in St. Paul in George Floyd’s killing. It sparked protests and a reexamination of no-knock search warrants. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced an immediate moratorium on such warrants, and on Tuesday, he formalized a new policy that will take effect Friday requiring officers to knock and wait before entering a residence. Some lawmakers also have been pushing for a statewide ban on no-knock warrants, except in rare circumstances.
“Amir Locke is a victim,” Ellison and Freeman said. “This tragedy may not have occurred absent the no-knock warrant used in this case.”
In their applications for search warrants of the Minneapolis apartment and other locations, authorities said a no-knock warrant was necessary to protect the public and officers as they looked for guns, drugs and clothing worn by people suspected in a violent killing. Authorities asked that officers be allowed to conduct the search without knocking, and outside the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., because the suspects being sought in the Jan. 10 killing of Otis Elder had a history of violence.
Locke was killed seconds after the SWAT team entered the apartment where his family said he was staying. Body camera video shows an officer using a key to unlock the door and enter, followed by at least four officers in uniform and protective vests, time-stamped at about 6:48 a.m. As they enter, they repeatedly shout, “Police, search warrant!” They also shout “Hands!” and “Get on the ground!”
The video shows an officer kicking a sectional sofa, and Locke is seen wrapped in a comforter, holding a pistol. Three shots are heard and the video ends.
Ellison and Freeman said the case shows that no-knock warrants are “highly risky” and can pose “significant dangers” to people who aren’t engaged in criminal activity.
“Local, state, and federal policy makers should seriously weigh the benefits of no-knock warrants, which are dangerous for both law enforcement and the public alike. Other cities, like Saint Paul, and some states, have ended the use of no-knock warrants entirely,” they said.
While Locke was not named in the warrant, his 17-year-old cousin, Mekhi Camden Speed, was named and has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in Elder’s killing.
The search warrants were carried out as part of an investigation into Elder’s death. Elder, a 38-year-old father, was found shot and laying in the street in what police believe was an apparent robbery. Drugs and money were found in Elder’s SUV, according to court documents.
The police department hired Hanneman in 2015. City records show there were three complaints made about him and that all were closed without him being disciplined, but they give no details. Data on the website of the citizen group Communities United Against Police Brutality shows a fourth complaint, in 2018, that remains open. No details were given.