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Teen sought in Amir Locke warrants charged with murder

17-year-old Mekhi Speed was arrested in rural Minnesota a week after Minneapolis police shot and killed his cousin, sparking renewed protests.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Minnesota police arrested a teenager Monday in connection with a homicide investigation that led to last week’s police killing of 22-year-old Minneapolis resident Amir Locke. 

Prosecutors have charged Locke’s cousin, 17-year-old Mekhi C. Speed of Minneapolis, with two counts of second-degree murder.

The St. Paul police department confirmed Tuesday that Speed was arrested in the southeastern Minnesota city of Winona and booked in a juvenile detention center on suspicion of second-degree murder relating to the Jan. 10 killing of 38-year-old St. Paul resident Otis Elder.

Elder’s death has been overshadowed by a deadly turn in the investigation: Minneapolis SWAT team shot Locke dead in his apartment while executing a no-knock search warrant. Locke was not named in the warrant. 

Minneapolis Police Department officer Mark Hanneman shot Locke, who was holding a handgun, nine seconds after entering his apartment in downtown Minneapolis early in the morning on Feb. 2. Officers had used a key and shouted “police search warrant” before firing.

Body camera footage shows Locke, wrapped in a blanket, holding a pistol with his trigger finger along the side of the barrel. Police say that he was pointing the gun at an officer off-camera. 

Locke was shot twice in the chest and once in the wrist, and died 13 minutes later at Hennepin County Medical Center, the city’s largest hospital. Locke’s family said that Locke was a deep sleeper and had a permit to carry the gun. A delivery driver, Locke was concerned about rising carjackings in the city. He was planning to move to Dallas to be closer to his mother and build a career as a hip-hop artist. 

Activists have taken to the streets in hundreds to protest Locke’s death and Minneapolis police’s continued use of no-knock warrants. Mayor Jacob Frey claimed to have banned no-knock warrants in November of 2020, and the claim played a key part of his reformist credentials in his 2021 re-election campaign. 

“Throughout a campaign, and certainly as more and more outside groups began weighing in, language became more casual, including my own,” Frey said in response to questioning from City Council member Jeremiah Ellison at a meeting Monday night. “Which did not reflect the necessary precision or nuance. And I own that.” 

Frey has since announced a moratorium on no-knock warrants in the city once again, with exceptions for warrants with approval from interim police chief Amelia Huffman. That has not stopped protesters from chanting and holding signs reading “Frey lied, Amir died.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office has undertaken an investigation of Locke’s killing, and has said his office is working with that of county attorney Mike Freeman to review the possibility of criminal charges against the officers involved. 

St. Paul police filed standard warrants for Locke’s apartment and two others in the neighborhood, but were forced to resubmit them after Minneapolis police insisted on no-knock warrants, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. While it hasn’t been confirmed who signed the warrants, reports emerged Monday that Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the high-profile murder trial of Derek Chauvin last year, was on signing duty that week. 

Elder was found after a 911 call Jan. 10 laying in the street in the western portion of St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood, sometimes called Union Park, suffering from gunshot wounds. He died shortly afterward at Regions Hospital in downtown St. Paul.

Charging documents say that Speed’s brother and the brother’s girlfriend were in the apartment where Locke was shot, and that officers seized Locke’s gun, a jacket they believed Speed was wearing when Elder was shot and marijuana. Speed was arrested, however, wearing a different jacket that matched the same description.

Protests were sparse in the days immediately following Locke’s death, in part because of frigid temperatures, winter storms and high winds. Following a warmup late in the week, Saturday saw protests at the city’s police stations and city hall. Those protests have continued in the days since, including at Huffman’s home in the Minneapolis Cedar-Isles-Dean neighborhood. 

“We’re asking for her job,” activist Toussaint Morrison said at that protest, “because it seems like the only time they pay attention is when it affects their jobs or their money. But we pull up when it affects our lives.” 

Huffman’s tenure as interim chief began with the retirement of chief Medaria Arradondo in December, and she has indicated that she is in the running to take the job on permanently. Shortly after Locke’s death, Huffman also faced critique for promoting once-fired officer David Garman to head the department’s training division.

Garman was terminated in 2009 for his role in a scandal surrounding the Metro Gang Strike Force, a multi-jurisdictional unit that was shut down after it was revealed that several of its members were keeping confiscated property for personal use and mistreating people of color. 

Garman, who was found to have helped cover up officers’ use of stolen cell phones, was reinstated as part of a deal with the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, for which Garman has served as treasurer and vice president. 

Huffman also promoted fired officer Robert Berry, who was fired in 2007 for ethical violations including failing to notify authorities that another officer was driving drunk. He was reinstated by order of an arbitrator who found that he had not been on duty at the time. 

MPD has defended the officers’ appointments, saying that they were promoted through the civil-service process and that while the chief can “skip over” candidates for promotion, she “cannot do that every time.” 

The department remains under investigations by both the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice for violations of people of color’s civil rights, both spurred by the death of George Floyd in May of 2020. Floyd’s murder by Chauvin sparked protests and riots around the globe, and three officers involved in his deadly arrest are currently on trial in St. Paul’s federal courthouse for alleged violations of Floyd’s civil rights. 

Chauvin, convicted of second-degree murder in state’s court, entered into a plea deal with federal prosecutors in January. He is still awaiting sentencing, but prosecutors sought a 25-year sentence for Chauvin. That would add just 2.5 years to his existing 22.5-year murder sentence.

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