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No charges to be filed in Amir Locke killing

The prosecutors’ decision comes on the heels of a change in city policy regarding no-knock warrants. 

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Prosecutors announced Wednesday that they would not file charges in connection with the shooting death of Amir Locke, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police executing an early-morning no-knock warrant in February.

In a joint statement from the offices of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the prosecutors noted that Locke “should be alive today, and his death is a tragedy,” but that “the state would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any of the elements of MInnesota’s use-of-deadly force statute.” 

Locke was shot dead on Feb. 2 by Minneapolis police officer Mark Hanneman. Police executed a no-knock warrant at 6:47 a.m. at an apartment where Locke was staying as part of a murder investigation in neighboring city St. Paul. Hanneman shot Locke as he was lying on a couch under a blanket, holding a handgun.

Ellison and Freeman said a video shows Locke raising the gun to point at Hanneman, which “constitutes a specifically articulable threat” sufficient to make the use of deadly force legal. 

The duo also decried the use of no-knock warrants in their statement.

“Any time law enforcement interacts with the public, all parties should be able to go home safely,” the statement read. “No-knock warrants are highly risky and pose significant dangers to both law enforcement and the public, including to individuals who are not involved in any criminal activity.” 

Locke’s cousin, 17-year-old Mekhi Speed, and another teenager have since been charged with the January killing of 38-year-old Otis R. Elder in St. Paul. Locke was not a subject of the warrant. 

University of St. Thomas law professor Rachel Moran said that the decision was “not terribly surprising.”

“It’s going to be very frustrating for a lot of people, because what happened is terrible and horribly unjustified,” she said, but noted that prosecutors have to look at the moment of the shooting itself. “I don’t think we’ve gotten a really fulsome explanation yet from the prosecutors,” she said, but “if you’re looking very narrowly at the moment of the choice to shoot, well, yeah, there was somebody with a gun.”

“Criminal prosecutions don’t do a good job at looking at the bigger picture,” she said. “And the picture is that there was a kid asleep on a couch … and the police chose to send a whole crowd of people in screaming and shouting, and for Amir Locke this was probably, very reasonably, terrifying.”  

As to whether and how the charging decision would impact a possible civil suit against Hanneman, the other officers involved or the city, Moran said it was too soon to tell. Locke’s family has legal representation, she said, but they have not announced what — if any — claims they might bring.

Minneapolis has paid out enormous sums to victims of police violence in civil suits in recent years, spiking to over $111 million in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd and civil unrest that followed.

The announcement comes on the heels of Mayor Jacob Frey’s Tuesday unveiling of a new set of restrictions on no-knock warrants in the city, with large exceptions carved out for “exigent circumstances.” Outside those circumstances — such as the prevention of imminent harm, escape, destruction of non-narcotic evidence, providing emergency aid or when officers are in “hot pursuit” — officers must knock and wait 20 seconds in the daytime and 30 seconds at night before entering. The new policy is set to go into effect on Friday.

Frey also claimed to ban no-knock warrants in November of 2020, with similar carve-outs, but the majority of warrants applied for by the MPD between that time and Locke’s death were no-knock warrants. 

Public criticism of the contradiction swelled in the wake of Locke’s death, and Frey sought to draw a difference between applying for the warrants and actually exercising them.

“We don’t have a single instance where a warrant was executed without announcements, even when a no-knock or no-announce warrant was issued,” he said at the time

Locke’s death spurred Frey to institute another temporary moratorium on the warrants, making this the third no-knock warrant ban Minneapolis has implemented since the high-profile 2020 deaths of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis resident, and Breonna Taylor, a Black Kentucky woman killed during a no-knock warrant. Another policy implemented in fall of 2021 required that officers obtain the approval of two superiors for a no-knock warrant application and that the department track and report the use of such warrants to the state. 

St. Paul police have not executed any no-knock warrants since 2016, and sought a standard warrant for the search that ended in Locke’s death. Minneapolis police insisted that they re-apply for a no-knock warrant, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. 

Whether or not the search fell afoul of department policy, however, Ellison and Freeman said they could not prove a direct link between the no-knock warrant request and Locke’s death.

“To do so would require that the state prove that there was no superseding cause,” they wrote in a list of FAQ answers that accompanied the announcement. “Here, there were at least two events that we would not be able [to] prove beyond a reasonable doubt were not superseding causes” — Locke’s holding the gun and Hanneman’s decision to shoot Locke when he saw the firearm.

Hanneman, 34, was placed on paid administrative leave after Locke’s death but has since returned to duty, according to the department. 

Locke’s death sparked renewed protests in February as the latest of a series of police killings of Black men in and around Minneapolis.

Protests have simmered and boiled for two years over the June 2021 killing of Winston Smith in Minneapolis, the shooting of Daunte Wright in the northern suburb of Brooklyn Center in April of 2021, and the killings of George Floyd and Dolal Idd by Minneapolis police in May and December of 2020. The 2015, 2016 and 2017 shootings of Jamar Clark, Philando Castile and Justine Damond in and around the city also sparked protests.

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