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What to know about the police shooting of Amir Locke during a ‘no-knock’ raid

Jeanelle Austin, caretaker of George Floyd's memorial, holds a “Don't Shoot” sign during a protest of the killing of Amir Locke, in Minneapolis on Feb. 5. (Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS — Last February, Amir Locke was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer during a predawn, no-knock raid. Locke, a 22-year-old Black man, was shot and killed as SWAT officers raided a downtown Minneapolis apartment to serve a warrant related to a homicide investigation in neighboring St. Paul.

Police were looking for Locke’s 17-year-old cousin and two others implicated in that killing, according to search warrants made public. Mekhi Speed, Locke’s cousin, was arrested and charged Feb. 8 with two counts of second-degree murder.

In early April, prosecutors decided not to press charges against the officer who shot and killed Locke, sparking new tensions over policing in a city still traumatized by the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. Additionally, the Minneapolis Office of Police Conduct Review has said it will conduct a special review of the police department’s no-knock warrant policy.

Attorneys for the Locke family, including civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, had called for the officer who shot Locke — identified by the department as Mark Hanneman — to be fired and charged. “Amir was an innocent young man of a raid gone terribly wrong, who is now the latest statistic and victim of the dangerous and intrusive no-knock warrant techniques that must be banned,” a statement from the attorneys reads.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a state agency that probes killings by police, is investigating the shooting. Minneapolis officials have declined to say whether Hanneman violated department policy or should be fired, citing the ongoing state investigation.

What led to Locke’s shooting?

Shortly before dawn on Feb. 2, members of the Minneapolis Police Department’s SWAT team gathered outside an apartment unit in the city’s downtown. They were executing a warrant related to a homicide investigation in neighboring St. Paul.

Body-camera video released by Minneapolis police shows Locke apparently waking up as SWAT officers burst into the apartment, his body wrapped in a comforter and a bright light in his face. As Locke shifts his body to sit up, a gun is seen in his hand. Three gunshots are heard — all fired by Hanneman — before the video stops. According to autopsy details released by prosecutors, Locke suffered gunshot wounds to the face, chest, and shoulder and a graze wound to the wrist and was pronounced dead at a hospital. The chaotic incident lasted less than 10 seconds.

Locke did not live in the apartment where he was killed. It was rented by the girlfriend of the older brother of Mekhi Speed, a suspect in the St. Paul homicide investigation. Speed and his mother, Cheryl Locke, lived in another apartment in the same building, which was also searched by police in coordinated raids around the same time.

Police initially described Locke as a suspect but later said that was incorrect. He was not named on the warrant that led to the shooting.

What do Minneapolis police say about what happened?

At a news conference just hours after the shooting, interim Minneapolis police chief Amelia Huffman said officers had “loudly and repeatedly announced ‘police search warrant’ before crossing the threshold into the apartment.” But the body-camera footage made public on Feb. 3 raised questions about Huffman’s account. It showed several officers rushing into the apartment at the same time that they announced their presence, giving Locke little time to react before he was shot. At a subsequent news conference, Huffman defended her description of the video and urged members of the public to watch the footage and “to make their own assessment.”

Huffman also said that Locke’s gun was aimed at the officers, though the body-camera footage appears to show it pointed toward the floor. Huffman has said it was pointed at an officer out of frame of the video, a threat she said led Hanneman to fire at Locke.

Huffman also defended the department’s initial description of Locke as a “suspect,” blaming a lack of information in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. But a police incident report appears to indicate that officers at the scene knew Locke’s identity within a half-hour of the shooting, hours before the department described Locke as a suspect.

Some have likened the incident to the initial MPD news release after Floyd’s killing, which described his death as a “medical incident.” Mayor Jacob Frey (D), who has administrative control over the department, said he is looking into creating a process where there is a “full review” of police statements before they are issued, though some have pointed out the city promised to do the same thing in response to misstatements about Floyd’s death.

What has Frey said about the shooting?

Mayor Frey immediately came under scrutiny for claiming to have banned no-knock warrants in the city, which he touted during his reelection campaign last year. A closer look at the policy revisions Frey implemented in late 2020, after Floyd’s death, revealed that the language allowed police to continue using them under a different name.

Two days after Locke’s death, Frey again announced a moratorium on use of the warrants — but in the fine print allowed the department to use them if officers deemed the situation an “imminent threat.” Frey later apologized for describing his 2020 action as a “ban,” telling City Council members last week that in describing the policy over time, “language became more casual, including my own, which did not reflect the necessary precision or nuance, and I own that.”

In recent days, protesters have carried signs that read “Frey Lied, Amir Died” and have called on the mayor to resign. On Friday, a group delivered more than 1,300 ethics complaints to City Hall over Frey’s handling of the Locke killing and his false claim about a no-knock-warrant ban. Frey’s office has called the ethics complaints “politically motivated,” and the mayor told WCCO-TV on Sunday that he has no plans to resign.

St. Paul police initially didn’t ask for a no-knock warrant. Why did the Minneapolis police demand one?

The warrant that led to the raid in which Locke was killed was related to a homicide investigation in neighboring St. Paul. Police there had linked Speed to the Jan. 10 killing of Otis Elder, who was shot during a robbery. Charging documents say police linked Speed to the slaying through surveillance video and a stolen Mercedes-Benz that was used as the getaway vehicle and had been implicated in “numerous prior crimes” dating back to December. A Minneapolis officer spotted the car at a parking ramp near the apartment building where Speed lived, and authorities later obtained surveillance video of Speed exiting the car. They said it matched the footage of the suspect in Elder’s killing.

Records made public last week show St. Paul police on Jan. 31 requested search warrants for three apartments in the building — including Apartment 701, where Locke was shot — looking for weapons and evidence related to Elder’s killing. The warrant asked for a search of Apartment 701 because staff at the building said Speed “had requested a key fob for that apartment in the past” and had been transported from the apartment by medics on Jan. 22.

The original warrants, written by St. Paul officer Daniel Zebro, asked for authorization to search the apartments between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. — a routine request for the SPPD, which hasn’t used a no-knock raid since at least 2016, according to a spokesman. But a source close to the investigation said Minneapolis police refused to participate in the operation unless it was a no-knock raid.

MPD officials declined to comment. But three new warrants were filed on Feb. 1 — also written by Zebro — with two additional pages of narrative arguing for no-knock warrants because of potential danger faced by officers who were investigating suspects with a “history of violent crimes” who had been pictured on social media with weapons. It called for a “nighttime search” to prevent the “loss, destruction or removal of evidence” and “to protect the searchers or the public.”

“A no-knock warrant enables officers to execute the warrant more safely by allowing officers to make entry into the apartment without alerting the suspects inside,” Zebro wrote. “This will not only increase officer safety, but it will also decrease the risk for injuries to the suspects and other residents nearby.”

Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill, who last year presided over former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in the Floyd case, approved and signed the warrants. Officers also had a probable cause warrant to arrest Speed. But he was not apprehended until Feb. 6 in Winona, Minn., about two hours southeast of Minneapolis.

Are prosecutors considering charges?

No.

Shortly after the shooting, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, announced that he would jointly review Locke’s “tragic death” with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

But in early April, prosecutors announced that the officer who fatally shot Locke will not face charges in the killing.

In a statement, Freeman and Ellison wrote that there was “insufficient admissible evidence to file criminal charges” in the case. They said they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hanneman had violated the state’s use-of-deadly force statute that authorizes officers to use such force.

The prosecutors also said they could find no criminal wrongdoing in the decision making that led to Locke’s fatal shooting but strongly criticized the use of a no-knock warrant.

“Amir Locke’s life mattered,” Ellison and Freeman said in the statement. “He should be alive today, and his death is a tragedy.”

What do Locke’s parents and family say?

Andre Locke and Karen Wells, the parents of Amir Locke, have said their son was a “good kid” with no criminal history who had been raised to “respect” police and was mentored by relatives in law enforcement. They said Locke was legally armed and regularly carried his gun because he worked as a DoorDash delivery driver and had been concerned about rising violent crime in the city, including carjackings. Andre Locke said his son reacted as “any reasonable law-abiding citizen would” to protect himself and “never had a chance” to respond to officers before shots were fired.

Locke had been planning to move to Dallas, where Wells lives, to pursue a music career. “A mother should never have to see her child executed in that type of way,” Wells said. “I gave birth to Amir. Not Minneapolis. I did. And you all took him from me.”

Mark Berman contributed to this report.

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