No-knock warrants in Minnesota under scrutiny after fatal police shooting

Locke was shot and killed during a police search last week.

February 7, 2022, 4:40 PM

A Minneapolis city council committee held a hearing on no-knock warrants Monday afternoon following the death of Amir Locke, who was fatally shot in an apartment by Minneapolis police officers on Wednesday during the execution of a "no-knock" warrant.

Law enforcement and criminal justice experts as well as activists and attorneys for the Locke family offered research and perspective on the impact and harm of no-knock warrants to the city council as talks of legislation continue.

A no-knock warrant allows the police to enter someone's home without knocking, sometimes without announcing their presence, attorney and criminal justice professor Rachel Moran said at the hearing.

If authorized by a judge, officers are also allowed to enter at a time period that's not within the 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. window to which normal search warrants are typically limited.

Moran cited a New York Times investigation that found at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers have died in "no-knock" and "quick-knock" raids between 2010 and 2016 in the U.S. -- and many more have been seriously injured.

"They're dangerous for residents and for the police," Moran said.

Amir Locke's mother Karen Wells speaks flanked by his father Andre Locke, during a press conference at City Hall in Minneapolis, on Feb. 4, 2022.
Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, attorney Antonio Romanucci and attorney Jeff Storms, who are representing Locke's family members, slammed local legislators for policies that Storms called "half measures."

"This is an epic failure of policy, and that failed policy killed Amir Locke," Crump said.

Romanucci added that "no-knock" warrants are "one of the most intrusive forms of government that our communities can experience, period. They can result in needless death and psychological trauma."

Moran, Crump and Storms said that policy changes on "no-knock" warrants haven't made a significant impact.

Minneapolis Police Department updated its policy in November 2020, limiting "no-knock" warrants to "exigent" cases.

Minneapolis police officers are required to announce their presence and purpose before entering a home, except for when announcing the officers' presence would create an imminent threat.

In those cases, a supervisor can authorize officers to enter without announcing their presence. Supervisors are required to provide evidence to support that decision before it is signed and approved by the judge.

“This is about proactive policymaking and instilling accountability,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement announcing the policy last November. “We can’t prevent every tragedy, but we can limit the likelihood of bad outcomes. This new, no-knock warrant policy will set shared expectations for our community and clear and objective standards within the department.”

That month, Moran said, the city reported that they'd been averaging about 139 "no-knock" warrants per year. In the first 10 months after the purported ban, the city reported that it had requested 90 "no-knock" warrants, according to Moran.

"It's important to implore upon everyone, that half measures have really gotten cities nowhere across the country," Storms said. "It's important that city does not just put Band-Aids on the immediate problems but spends time thinking about how to preempt the next civil rights violation, not just related to no-knock warrants, but to other areas of policy practice and training."

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey speaks with constituents at a backyard campaign event on Oct. 26, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minn.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images, FILE

In response to Locke's death, Frey issued a moratorium late Friday on "no-knock" warrants.

"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."

However, officials may execute a no-knock warrant under the moratorium if it is determined that there is an imminent threat of harm to an individual or the public. The chief must approve the warrant in those cases, according to the mayor.

Frey will talk with the experts who helped shape Breonna's Law to review and suggest revisions to the department’s policy. The law, issued in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2020, banned no-knock warrants following the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

In a Friday press conference regarding Locke's death, acting Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman said that "both a no-knock and a knock search warrant were obtained ... so that the SWAT team could assess the circumstances and make the best possible decision" in the Locke case.

Body camera footage released Thursday shows officers executing a no-knock search warrant before coming across 22-year-old Locke, who had been sleeping under a blanket on the couch in the apartment that the warrant was issued for.

He is seen holding a gun as he begins to sit up, still covered with the blanket before he is shot less than 10 seconds after officers entered the room.

Huffman said that when officers saw the gun, "That's the moment when the officer had to make a split second decision to assess the circumstances and determine whether he felt like there was an articulable threat."

PHOTO: In this image taken from Minneapolis Police Department body camera video and released by the city of Minneapolis, Minneapolis police enter an apartment on Feb. 2, 2022 moments before shooting 22-year-old Amir Locke.
In this image taken from Minneapolis Police Department body camera video and released by the city of Minneapolis, Minneapolis police enter an apartment on Feb. 2, 2022 moments before shooting 22-year-old Amir Locke. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has imposed a moratorium on no-knock warrants after Locke was killed as a SWAT team carried out a search warrant in a downtown apartment.
Minneapolis Police Department via AP, FILE

Locke was not named in the warrant, according to family attorney Ben Crump said at the press conference. The warrant was being executed on behalf of St. Paul police, who were searching for a homicide suspect.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has ruled Locke's death a homicide.

The officer who shot and killed Locke was identified by police as Mark Hanneman. In accordance with policy, he's been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into the incident. It is unclear if Hanneman has legal representation.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison will work with the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to review Locke's death, the office said in a press release Friday.

Locke's killing prompted protests demanding justice in his killing. Hundreds of demonstrators chanted, "Who's down with the revolution? We're down with the revolution!" and "No justice, no peace," while marching toward the police precinct on Saturday.

A caravan of cars also pulled up to what ABC affiliate KSTP reported could be Huffman's home. Protesters got out of their cars in front of the home, chanting and banging drums.

Related Topics