The Amir Locke police killing: Facts on file

Tony Webster Amir Locke

Developments in the case of the police killing of Amir Locke continue. This article summarizes facts known at this time.

On February 2, Amir Locke was sleeping on a couch in a relative’s apartment. At approximately 6:48 am, Minneapolis police entered that apartment, using a key fob. As they came in, they began shouting that they were police and had a search warrant.

One officer kicked the couch where Locke was sleeping. He woke up, startled, wrapped in a blanket, holding the gun he was licensed to own and carry. Nine seconds after the police entered the apartment, they shot and killed Locke.

From sleeping to waking to dying. Nine seconds.

The first police statements called Locke a “suspect.” He was not. He was not named on the search warrant, was not the target of an investigation, and had no criminal record. He had a gun and a permit to carry because he drove for a food delivery service and was afraid of carjackings in Minneapolis.

The 22-year-old, who grew up in Maplewood and played high school football until he broke his collarbone, planned to move to Texas this week. In Texas, he would be near his mother Karen Wells. He planned to work in real estate and start a music career as a hip hop artist, like his father Andre Locke.

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus issued a statement denouncing the killing, noting that Locke was awakened “with a confusing array of commands coming from multiple officers who are pointing lights and firearms at him,” and that he “did what many of us might do in the same confusing circumstances, he reached for a legal means of self-defense while he sought to understand what was happening.”

Locke Family / Facebook Amir Locke

No-knock search warrant

The police entered the Bolero Flats apartment building where Locke was staying without knocking. Minneapolis police do this a lot. A Star Tribune review of court records found at least 13 no-knock warrant applications since the beginning of 2022, as well as 12 standard search warrants. That’s likely an undercount because many warrants are filed under seal and not made public until a later date—including the warrant for the search that killed Locke. Last year, MinnPost reported a police statement that 90 no-knock warrants had been issued between November 2020 and August 20, 2021.

In contrast, St. Paul police have not used any no-knock warrants since 2016.

Official Minneapolis policies in place since November 2020 are supposed to limit no-knock warrants to “exigent circumstances.” All of Minneapolis, a pro-Frey and pro-police political action committee, and Jacob Frey’s own campaign both claimed on their websites that Frey “banned no-knock warrants.” Clearly, that was not the case. After Locke was killed, both removed those statements.  

A Minnesota law also restricts no-knock warrants, including a general prohibition against these warrants between 8 pm and 7 am. That restriction was ignored on February 2. The Minnesota law also requires approval of applications for each no-knock warrant by “the chief law enforcement officer or designee and another superior officer.”

On February 4, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey issued a new statement restricting no-knock warrants:

“In the fall of 2020, Mayor Frey issued an official policy restricting the execution of no-knock/unannounced warrants. This policy required officers to announce their presence prior to entry in all but exigent circumstances. …

“With the moratorium in effect, the only permissible way for MPD officers to execute a warrant is the ‘knock-and-announce’ approach, which includes knocking, announcing, waiting a reasonable amount of time and only then entering. To execute a no-knock warrant under the moratorium, there must be an imminent threat of harm to an individual or the public and then the warrant must be approved by the Chief.”

The warrant for the search that killed Locke was requested by St. Paul police regarding a St. Paul homicide. The St. Paul police did not request a no-knock warrant. But the Minneapolis police said they would not carry out the search unless they had a no-knock warrant. The St. Paul police agreed to their terms.

MGN

The police

At least two SWAT teams were at the Bolero Flats apartments with warrants to search three apartments. The officer who shot and killed Locke was Mark Hanneman, who was hired by the MPD in July 2015. Prior to that time, he was a police officer in Hutchinson, MN for five years.

As a Minneapolis police officer, he had three complaints filed against him, all closed without disciplinary action.

As a Hutchinson officer, he was disciplined at least once, for actions while training with the Drug Recognition Evaluator program in the Twin Cities in May 2012.

Two other officers on the two SWAT teams, Kristopher Dauble and Nathan Sundberg, were identified by the Minnesota Reformer last year as members of a SWAT team that roamed Lake Street in a white, unmarked cargo van five days after George Floyd’s murder, randomly firing 40mm marking rounds at people on the street.

They are currently being sued in civil court over their actions. The MPD has not commented on any internal investigation. Sundberg was on the SWAT team that entered Apartment 701 and Dauble was on the other team.

What comes next

The Locke family is represented by Ben Crump, the attorney who represented the George Floyd family, and the Breonna Taylor family. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police executing a no-knock warrant in her apartment in Louisville, KY, shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020. The city of Louisville subsequently agreed to pay a $12 million settlement to Taylor’s family and to implement a range of policing policy changes.

Minneapolis pays millions for police misconduct every year. The two largest settlements both came in the past few years: $27 million to George Floyd’s family last year and $20 million to Justine Ruszczyk’s family in 2019.

That’s the civil side of legal action. On the criminal side, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is working with Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman’s office to investigate possible criminal charges.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the police department is working with Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University and civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson to review its no-knock warrant policy. These two non-Minnesotans consulted with Kentucky officials to revise their policies after the Breonna Taylor killing.

Local activists have little confidence in the desire or ability of the mayor to take any effective action to control the police. In January, the mayor’s Community Safety Work Group barred the public from its meetings, prompting the resignation in protest of one member.