Minn officers fatally shoot gunman during search warrant

By Libor Jany, Paul Walsh and Abby Simons
Tribune of the Stars

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis police body camera video released Thursday night showed several officers rushing into a downtown apartment yelling “Search warrant!” then shoot and kill Amir Locke as he fussed under a blanket on a couch with a gun in his hand.

The 55-second video, first in slow motion and then in real time, shows SWAT officers entering and closing in on Locke, 22, with their weapons drawn and fitted with mounted lights that illuminate the otherwise dark apartment. Wednesday morning’s incident unfolded within seconds before Locke was fatally shot.

Officers were on the seventh floor of the Bolero Flats at 1117 S. Marquette Av. shortly before 7 a.m. to serve a search warrant in connection with a homicide investigation in St. Paul.

The Star Tribune learned earlier Thursday that Locke, a black man, was not targeted by the warrant. Acting Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman confirmed Thursday night that Locke was not named in the warrant.

The video shows police officers discreetly turning the key. As soon as the door opened, several officers shouted, “Police search warrant!…Get on the [expletive] Earth!”

Locke moves under cover, a handgun emerging in his right hand before one of the officers fires three times, knocking Locke to the ground. This is where the posted video ends.

Amir Locke’s parents, Andre and Karen Locke, declined to comment on the shooting, except for his mother who said, “We want justice for our son.” Jeff Storms, an attorney representing the family, confirmed earlier Thursday that Locke’s family viewed the video before it was released.

Storms joins forces with civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who has won major financial settlements for several families across the country who have lost loved ones to police brutality in recent years, including a record-breaking settlement of $27 million with the city of Minneapolis for George’s family. Floyd.

The Locke family plans to hold a press conference Friday morning.

Authorities identified the officer who fired the fatal shots as Mark Hanneman. Huffman coordinated the release of the video with investigators from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) “without compromising the integrity of their investigation or their ability to gather evidence,” read a statement from City Hall.

Crump and Storms said Locke had several law enforcement family members and no criminal history, and was in legal possession of a firearm at the time of his death. Locke would not have been required to have a license to possess the gun in a private residence.

“Like the case of Breonna Taylor, the tragic murder of Amir Locke shows a series of no-knock warrants with deadly consequences for black Americans,” Crump said in a statement. “This is yet another example of why we need to end these kinds of search warrants so that one day black Americans can sleep safely in their beds at night.”

Three separate law enforcement sources told the Star Tribune that Locke was not a target of the St. Paul homicide investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity as the matter remains under investigation by the BCA.

Police officials said a loaded handgun was recovered from the scene.

One of Amir Locke’s cousins ​​said on Thursday that there was nothing violent and angry about him.

“It was quite the opposite,” said 21-year-old Ervin Locke Jr., who recalled the two speaking on the phone last week. “All he did was make jokes.”

He said the man he’s affectionately known all his life as C-Mo “wasn’t homeless. All he cared about was music and basketball . He was left alone.”

Locke was not named in the search warrant application, but is linked to one of the people believed to be involved in the St. Paul homicide. A police spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.

According to a dispatch report, police notified a dispatcher at around 6:19 a.m. that they were going to enter apartment 701 at Bolero Flats. A comment added to the report showed police ‘AIR WHEN ABOUT TO EXECUTE THIS HAZARD – NO SOUND EXPECTED’ – suggesting they were executing a no knock warrant. At 6:48 a.m., police called medics on floor 7, saying someone had been shot, the report said. CPR began three minutes later when officers brought the man, later identified as Locke, to medics on the first floor. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

At around 7:04 a.m., an officer said on the radio that police were “transporting” a woman to room 801, an office in police headquarters used for interrogations. It is not known if the woman in question was in the apartment with Locke.

Hanneman was the only officer to fire, hitting Locke twice in the chest and once in the wrist, according to a separate report.

A search of court records showed that the raid support warrant had not been made public on Thursday afternoon.

During a Thursday night press conference with Mayor Jacob Frey, Huffman said the department would review its policies after the shooting. She defended a statement on Wednesday that police announced her presence before crossing the threshold of the apartment, although video shows officers were shouting as they entered. She also maintained that the barrel of the gun Locke was holding was pointed at an officer outside of the video image.

Frey said “the video raises about as many questions as it answers. We intend to get answers as soon as possible.”

Questions from reporters mostly ended after civil rights activist and attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong approached Huffman and Frey, and said their handling of the shooting made him doubt his decision to work with the city. to prevent further police violence.

“This is unacceptable, I’m sorry, it is,” Levy Armstrong said. “When I agreed to work with you…we talked about the importance of transparency and accountability, and what we’re seeing is business as usual.”

Referring to the decision to carry out St. Paul’s warrant, Levy Armstrong asked, “Why the hell would you all want to sign up to do this in the first place?”

The MPD’s initial press release about the encounter called Locke a “suspect,” but not necessarily in connection with the St. Paul homicide investigation. Huffman said that at the time the statement was released, “it was certainly unclear yesterday, but it remains unclear if or how Mr. Locke is connected to the St. Paul investigation.”

Earlier Thursday, pressure to release the video mounted across the city, as leaders from U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar to City Council members Jason Chavez and Robin Wonsley Worlobah called for all footage to be made public. This request was echoed in a letter to Huffman and Frey from members of the Minneapolis delegation from the Minnesota House.

In a statement released after the shooting, the president of the Minneapolis Federation of Police Officers, Sgt. Sherral Schmidt said the union is grateful that all officers involved are “safe”. She said the officer who shot the man was forced to make a “split-second decision to save his life and the lives of his fellow officers”.

Wednesday’s shooting reignited a simmering debate over the use of so-called “no-hit” search warrants.

The use of surprise raids, which allow police to enter property without first announcing their presence, has been banned in cities across the country after leading to the deaths of innocent civilians. Minneapolis restricted the practice in 2020, but it is still sometimes used in some cases.

While police have defended the use of no-knock raids as necessary to keep officers safe when arresting violent suspects, critics say it puts lives at risk.

Paul Applebaum, a private defense attorney, said no-knock warrants are often used in drug and violent crime cases, but with the expansion of surveillance technology, police should be able to apprehend a suspect without such a show of force.

“It seems like the risk is greater than the reward of keeping evidence or not having a shooting or all that,” said Applebaum, who has prosecuted officers for alleged misconduct. “It’s like going to sit in the hall behind a newspaper and waiting for it to come out.”

Another problem, he says, is that judges tend to show deference to law enforcement, signing no-knock warrants “without thinking about the potential repercussions if something goes wrong.”

“And that’s what’s happening,” he said.

Under current Minneapolis policy, officers must identify themselves as ‘police officers’ and announce their objective as a ‘search warrant’ before entering a home, regardless of whether a judge has approved entry ‘without notice’. » or « without knocking ». Once inside a residence, officers are expected to repeat these announcements periodically in case occupants have not heard them. The same rules, which mirror those already in place across the river in St. Paul, also apply to arrest warrants.

The practice, most often used by SWAT officers, should help maintain the element of surprise and preserve evidence while eliminating confusion over who is entering the building, a police spokesperson said. at the time.

The policy states that no-knock warrants would only be acceptable in high-risk circumstances such as a hostage situation, when “making an announcement would create an imminent threat of physical harm to victims, officers, or the public”. Some exceptions apply, but investigators must obtain permission from the Chief of Police or his or her designate.

In the past, MPD has executed an average of 139 no-knock warrants per year.

Star Tribune staff writers Liz Sawyer and Alex Chhith contributed to this report.

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