By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota prosecutors declined to file charges Wednesday against a Minneapolis police SWAT team officer who fatally shot Amir Locke while executing an early morning no-knock search warrant in a downtown apartment in February.
Locke, 22, who was Black, was staying on a couch in his cousin’s apartment when authorities entered it on Feb. 2 without knocking as part of an investigation into a homicide in neighboring St. Paul.
Prosecutors said body camera video showed that Locke pointed a gun at Officer Mark Hanneman, justifying his use of deadly force. Locke’s family has disputed that, arguing that the footage suggests Locke was startled awake and that he grabbed for a gun he was licensed to carry.
Locke’s mother, Karen Wells, said she was disgusted by the decision. At a news conference in New York with attorney Ben Crump and civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, she vowed to keep up pressure on Minneapolis city leaders and spoke directly to Hanneman.
“This is not over. You may have been found not guilty, but in the eyes of me, being the mother who I am, you are guilty,” Wells said. “And I’m not going to give up. Continue to have your restless nights, because I know you do.”
Locke was shot seconds after officers entered the apartment. The body camera footage shows that Locke was holding a gun before he was shot.
Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, whose offices reviewed the case, said Locke might never have been shot if not for the no-knock warrant. But they said there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hanneman violated the state statute governing when police can use deadly force.
“It would be unethical for us to file charges in a case in which we know that we will not be able to prevail because the law does not support the charges,” Ellison said.
Locke’s death came as three former Minneapolis police officers were on trial in federal court in St. Paul in George Floyd’s killing. It sparked protests and a reexamination of no-knock search warrants. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced an immediate moratorium on such warrants, and on Tuesday, he formalized a new policy requiring officers to knock and wait before entering a residence, with limited exceptions. Some lawmakers have been pushing for a statewide ban on no-knock warrants, except in rare circumstances.
The department issued a statement from Interim Chief Amelia Huffman saying that Hanneman returned to active duty on Feb. 28 but is no longer on a SWAT team. She did not comment directly on Hanneman’s actions but said, “Officers never want to face split-second decisions that end in the loss of life.”
Locke’s family was angry that police initially described him as a suspect, which police later said was a mistake.
“Our investigation found no evidence that he had any role in the homicide investigation that brought the police to his door at 6:48 on Feb. 2,” Ellison said. “Amir was a victim. He never should have been called a suspect.”
In their applications for search warrants of the Minneapolis apartment and other locations, authorities said a no-knock warrant was necessary to protect the public and officers as they looked for guns, drugs and clothing worn by people suspected in a violent killing.
Authorities asked that officers be allowed to conduct the search without knocking, and outside the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., because the suspects being sought in the Jan. 10 killing of Otis Elder had a history of violence.
Locke was killed seconds after the SWAT team entered the apartment at 6:48 a.m. Body camera video shows an officer using a key to unlock the door and enter, followed by at least four officers in uniform and protective vests. As they enter, they repeatedly shout, “Police, search warrant!” They also shout “Hands!” and “Get on the ground!”
The video shows an officer kicking a sectional sofa, and Locke is seen wrapped in a comforter, holding a pistol. Three shots are heard and the video ends.
“I was convinced that the individual was going to fire their handgun and that I would suffer great bodily harm or death,” Hanneman wrote in his statement to investigators. “I felt in this moment that if I did not use deadly force myself, I would likely be killed.”
Ellison and Freeman said they spoke with Locke’s parents on Wednesday before announcing they wouldn’t file charges.
“They, like us, are very frustrated with no-knock warrants. They, like us, believe that if a no-knock warrant hadn’t been used Amir Locke might well be here today,” Freeman said, declining to give further details about their conversation.
Sharpton said the family will demand that the U.S. Justice Department review the case. Crump faulted police for creating a life-or-death situation, and said gun rights groups should join with the family in demanding an end to no-knock warrants.
He connected Locke’s death with that of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in a botched police raid in Kentucky in 2020 in which her boyfriend shot at officers first as they broke into her apartment.
“Because if it can happen to Amir, it can happen to Breonna Taylor, it could happen to your children, too,” Crump said.
Although Locke was not named in the warrant, his then-17-year-old cousin, Mekhi Camden Speed, was named and has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in Elder’s killing.
Elder, a 38-year-old father, was found shot and laying in the street in what police believe was an apparent robbery. Drugs and money were found in Elder’s SUV, according to court documents.
The police department hired Hanneman in 2015. City records show there were three complaints made about him and that all were closed without him being disciplined, but they give no details. Data on the website of the citizen group Communities United Against Police Brutality shows a fourth complaint, in 2018, that remains open. No details were given.
Associated Press writer Amy Forliti contributed to this report.