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Officials, activists renew calls for change after prosecutors decide not to file charges in Amir Locke's killing

6 April 2022

Elected officials in Minnesota repeated their calls for stricter regulations or completes bans on the use of no-knock warrants, hours after state and local prosecutors announced they would not be charging the officer who killed Amir Locke.

State Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman both announced Wednesday morning that they would not be charging Officer Mark Hanneman because they did not believe they could obtain a conviction under state and federal laws.

“If the law does not allow us to file criminal charges in this case, what can we do — as policy makers, prosecutors, society, and community — to keep a death like Amir’s from happening again?” Ellison said, before calling on officials to “interrogate whether no-knock warrants are ever really needed,” enact a federal legislation aimed at increasing accountability for officers and reduce in-custody deaths, among other things.

The death of Locke, 22, in February reignited a national debate about the use of no-knock warrants, which don’t require officers to announce their presence before entering a residence. Minneapolis police were searching a downtown apartment on Feb. 2 when, seconds after entering, Locke, who appeared to have been sleeping on a couch, stirred under a blanket while holding a gun. Hanneman shot Locke, who died the same day.

The announcement that prosecutors would not charge Hanneman came less than a day after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey unveiled a new no-knock warrant policy that prohibits officers from applying for or executing no-knock search warrants — except in exigent circumstances. The policy defines “exigent circumstances” as when in hot pursuit, to prevent imminent harm or provide emergency aid, to prevent imminent destruction or removal of evidence and to prevent the imminent escape of a suspect.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the new policy would have prevented an instance like the one that resulted in Locke’s death.

Minneapolis police were searching an apartment in connection with a St. Paul killing — one in which Locke wasn’t a suspect. According to a report prepared by a police practices expert for prosecutors, the application for the no-knock warrant said police believed they needed one “both for safety reasons and to prevent the destruction of evidence.” Among other things, it noted that a person — whose name is redacted — had fled from the homicide scene to the apartment building where the search occurred and that surveillance video showed someone “seemingly hiding the murder weapon under his clothing.”

Some activists and elected officials had called for a more complete ban on no-knock warrants after Locke’s death. Many of them now said they will be watching closely to see if Minneapolis police curtail their use of the practice or continue to rely on them, citing the exceptions.

“I think my biggest concern is related to the loopholes that I still see in it,” Pete Gamades, a member of the Racial Justice Network, said Tuesday night, after the new policy was unveiled. Gamades was particularly concerned about the provision that allows police to cite the destruction of evidence as a reason for using a no-knock warrant: “I would imagine that MPD could use that as a justification to continue not waiting to enter.”

Elected officials, including Ellison, who is running for re-election, said they too will be watching to see how Minneapolis enforces its new policy. Ellison called Frey’s new policy “stronger than the previous one.”

“Now this policy actually needs to be enforced and obeyed,” he said. “Then, maybe Minneapolis can get the results like St. Paul, which hasn’t used a no-knock warrant since 2016, with no harm to public safety.”

Some of the people pushing for stronger restrictions or bans say they’re not relying on Minneapolis alone to make changes and are also turning their attention to Minnesota’s state Legislature.

DFL legislators in the Minnesota House are trying to move legislation that would ban no-knock warrants in the state, a dramatic expansion on new regulations that became law last year. Gov. Tim Walz has said that he would sign a bill banning the practice into law if one reaches his desk this session.

The new bill defines no-knock search warrants as any warrant authorizing an officer to enter a property without first “loudly knocking and loudly and understandably announcing the officer’s presence or purpose and waiting no less than 30 seconds thereafter prior to entering the premises to allow compliance by the subject.”

The proposal to go beyond last year’s regulations, introduced by Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, was put forward after Locke’s death earlier this year. It originally provided some exceptions to the ban but was since amended to prohibit the practice entirely before it passed the House’s Judiciary Committee last month on a party-line vote.

“The vast majority of law enforcement officers in our state do not use no-knock warrants regularly, further indicating that policing without no-knock warrants is absolutely possible,” Hollins said in a statement after the bill advanced the committee last month.

There is, however, no companion bill in the Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate. State Sen. Warren Limmer, the Maple Grove Republican who chairs the Senate’s judiciary and public safety committee, has said that he was inclined not to support the proposed ban, noting previously that “there are times when you have to use extreme measures” to arrest dangerous criminals. Limmer has instead opted to focus on tougher-on-crime proposals such as increased penalties for certain crimes and proposed changes to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission.

The bills moving in the Legislature are being watched closely both by activists groups who typically call for tougher accountability measures for police and by some groups that have advocated for gun owners’ rights.

Rob Doar, vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, who’s been publicly critical of the use of no-knock warrants, said the lack of charges isn’t surprising. Officer Hanneman’s use of force is consistent with state statute, but his action took the life of “an innocent law-abiding citizen,” Doar said.

“The lack of charges shouldn’t preclude us from looking at the reasons that actually put the officers behind the door,” he said.

Doar said there needs to be a serious conversation at the Legislature about the use of no-knock warrants “because there are some agencies that have been given an inch for the use of no-knock warrants, and they’ve taken a mile,” he said, citing Minneapolis as one of those agencies that “uses them with unique frequency.”

“I’m hesitant for the Legislature to prescribe police tactics to law enforcement, but at the end of the day, we have to make sure that the lives of innocent people are protected, and that due process is preserved.”

Staff Writers Andy Mannix, Faiza Mahamud and Abby Simons contributed to this report.

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