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Family of Minneapolis man slain in no-knock raid sues city

The parents of Amir Locke drew attention in their complaint to the fact that the city rarely executes no-knock raids on white households.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The family of Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man shot by Minneapolis police during a no-knock, early morning raid last February, has filed suit against the city and the officer who fired the fatal shots. 

In a complaint filed after court hours Thursday, Locke’s parents Karen Wells and Andre Locke brought four counts against Minneapolis and Mark Hanneman, a SWAT officer who opened fire on Locke nine seconds after officers entered the apartment where Locke was sleeping. 

No criminal charges were brought against Hanneman, with prosecutors citing the fact that Locke was reaching for a handgun as a major obstacle to showing that his death was unjustified. In their complaint and at a news conference Friday morning, attorneys for the Locke family argued that the officers’ unannounced entry made Locke’s split-second decision to reach for his gun understandable and a fair exercise of his right to self-defense. 

“Any reasonable officer would have understood that Amir needed an opportunity to realize who and what was surrounding him, and then provide Amir with an opportunity to disarm himself,” attorney Jeffrey Storms of local firm Newmark Storms and Dworak wrote in the family’s complaint. “Hanneman failed to give Amir any such opportunity even though Amir never pointed the handgun at Hanneman or put his finger on the trigger.” 

Locke’s death spurred renewed protests in Minneapolis during the already turbulent period following the spring 2020 murder of George Floyd and police killings of Daunte Wright, Winston Smith and Dolal Idd in late 2020 and 2021. It also brought renewed scrutiny to the freshly reelected Mayor Jacob Frey’s campaign claims that he had banned no-knock warrants in the aftermath of the deaths of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a Black Kentucky woman killed during the execution of a no-knock warrant. 

Storms drew attention to the claims of a no-knock warrant ban in the family’s complaint. The city’s SWAT team, he noted, had executed 87 such warrants between the policy change Frey called a “ban” and October 2021 – substantially exceeding the number of knock-and-announce warrants. 

That pattern, Storms argues, displayed a distinct racial divide.

“Between September 1, 2021 and January 31, 2022, MPD only executed no-knock warrants on people of color, with 80% of no-knock warrant targets being Black” he wrote. “MPD did not execute a single no-knock warrant on Non-Hispanic Whites.” 

The complaint drew heavily from the findings of a Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation into the police department which was ongoing at the time of Locke’s death and concluded just under three months later. That investigation, Storms noted, found that MPD had attempted to spin Locke’s death by repeatedly referring to him as a suspect despite later revealing that neither he nor anyone else in the apartment was a suspect in the St. Paul homicide investigation they were assisting. 

The Locke family’s attorneys restated their argument that the killing was the result of systemic failures in Minneapolis policing in Friday’s news conference. 

"Everybody, not just in Minneapolis but across the United States who has paid attention to no-knock warrants, have known that families would be standing here time and time again grieving the loss of a loved one as a result of a no-knock warrant," Storms said. "They know they're dangerous and the city of Minneapolis knew they were dangerous before Amir was killed."

Another of the family’s attorneys, nationally known civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, put it more bluntly.

“The police can de-escalate just fine when they want to,” he told reporters. "But they don't do it when it's Black and brown people."

Locke’s younger cousin, Mekhi Speed, was later arrested in rural Minnesota, charged with murder and sentenced to 16 years in prison. While Speed’s older brother lived in the apartment where Locke was shot, police have not alleged that either he or Locke were involved in the killing of 38-year-old Otis Elder. 

St. Paul police had asked MPD to effect a knock-and-announce warrant on the apartment, but have said that they resubmitted their warrant request to accommodate the MPD’s demand that it be a no-knock entry. St. Paul banned no-knock warrants in 2016. 

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