Amir Locke’s family sues Minneapolis for ‘no-knock’ warrant killing
No-knock warrants have been banned in a number of cities across the country after they resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians
MINNEAPOLIS — The family of Amir Locke, the 22-year-old Black man shot and killed by Minneapolis police during a pre-dawn raid last February, is suing the city and the SWAT officer who pulled the trigger, alleging that the no-knock warrant that resulted in his death is consistent with the city's "custom, pattern and practice of racial discrimination in policing."
The 35-page civil lawsuit filed on behalf of his parents, Karen Wells and Andre Locke, came ahead of a news conference with Locke's family, along with civil rights attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms. It was filed on the one-year anniversary of Locke's death, observed Thursday, Feb. 2, with a gathering at the Minnesota State Capitol that included Locke's relatives and more than 100 supporters.
Andre Locke said Friday that the accountability sought for the violations of Locke's constitutional rights, as alleged in the lawsuit, mean his son's death "will not be swept under the rug," and will be impactful in ending no-knock warrants. Addressing his son, he said:
"You will be the face of justice for many, and you will save lives. This is not in vain. You stood for something in America. Your legacy will remain for each of us."
"The question is always asked: Why did this happen? Let me give you a broad paintbrush," Romanucci said Friday morning. "What happened to Amir Locke on Feb. 2, 2022, was not the cause of a singular event; it was the result of a systemic pattern and practice that occurred over time."
Storms said critical aspects of the lawsuit are "foreseeability and notice," meaning the City of Minneapolis should have known of the dangers of no-knock warrants.
"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," he said. "They know they're dangerous, and the City of Minneapolis knew they were dangerous before Amir was killed."
Crump said that beyond legal technicalities, the lawsuit challenges the implicit bias that resulted in Locke's death:
"The police can de-escalate just fine when they want to. Just fine," he said. "But they don't do it when it's Black and brown people."
On the morning of Feb. 2, 2022, members of the Minneapolis SWAT team stormed into the Bolero Flats apartment building downtown in search of evidence related to a St. Paul homicide investigation. Footage from one of the officers' body cameras showed police quietly unlocking the apartment door with a key before barging inside, yelling "Search warrant!" as Locke lay under a blanket on the couch. An officer kicked the couch, Locke stirred, and was shot by officer Mark Hanneman within seconds as he emerged holding a firearm in his right hand.
Locke, a DoorDash delivery driver and aspiring rapper who legally possessed the gun, was not the subject of the search warrant and had no known criminal record.
"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," the suit reads. "Hanneman failed to give Amir any such opportunity...Instead, Hanneman fired three shots while Amir was still covered in a blanket on a couch where Amir had been resting peacefully only 10 seconds before the SWAT entry."
Hanneman told investigators he feared for his life and that he needed to use deadly force. Two months later, then-Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Attorney General Keith Ellison declined to file charges against Hanneman, because they didn't feel they could get a conviction under state law.
The federal lawsuit alleges that Locke was killed during the execution of a no-knock warrant, despite the fact that he never raised the weapon in the direction of any officer nor placed his finger on the trigger. Locke's killing led to a moratorium on the controversial practice, after St. Paul police initially applied for a standard search warrant in connection with an ongoing homicide investigation, but they were forced to resubmit the request after Minneapolis police insisted on a no-knock operation.
No-knock warrants, which allow police to enter a property without announcing their presence beforehand, have been banned in a number of cities across the country after they resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians. Minneapolis restricted the use of such unannounced raids in 2020, as part of a series of reforms in the wake of George Floyd's death. At the time, Mayor Jacob Frey claimed he banned no-knock warrants for "all but exigent circumstances."
But court records suggest the practice continued until Locke's death. The lawsuit claims that in the four months leading up to Locke's killing, "Minneapolis executed no-knock warrants only in homes of color, predominantly in Black homes, and not once in the homes of non-Hispanic Whites. The application for and the execution of the no-knock warrant that resulted in Amir's death is consistent with Minneapolis' custom, pattern and practice of racial discrimination in policing."
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