The decision not to charge a Minneapolis police officer in the February killing of Amir Locke has baffled, among others, his family and friends as well as many in the community. Locke, age 22, was fatally shot during an early morning botched raid at a downtown Minneapolis apartment where he was staying.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman jointly said last week that after an independent investigation, along with their respective offices, all concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Minneapolis police officer Mark Hanneman violated the Minnesota use of force law.
“I have to admit it was shocking,” said Bishop Richard Howell of Shiloh Temple International. His Northside church hosted Locke’s funeral. He told the MSR last week, “The community is still confused by what happened…that there was no crime committed by the police.”
A video and a brief bodycam excerpt released by the City after the shooting showed officers opening the door of the apartment where Locke was staying. Officers didn’t knock before entering but can be heard shouting “police” and “search warrant.”
It also shows Locke stirring from underneath a blanket and holding a handgun just before Hanneman shoots him. Another angle shows Locke pointing the gun but not at anyone.
Despite earlier reports, Locke was not a suspect and was not connected in any way with a St. Paul homicide case. Nor was he named in the “no-knock” search warrant.
According to his family, Locke had no criminal record and had legally purchased a handgun because he feared for his safety as a food delivery driver. They stated they believed he was startled awake, grabbed his gun, and pointed it to the ground as he was trained to do.
“We were upset when we saw it,” said Howell of the footage.
Last week’s decision by Ellison and Freeman further strained community relations with police, especially among communities of color. Among many unanswered questions is why Minneapolis police sought and received a no-knock warrant that ultimately led to Locke’s death.
“I don’t know the answer to this,” responded Howell. “I thought that there was a quarantine or a moratorium that they were not going to use that process.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey last Tuesday said he issued a new policy that prohibits no-knock warrants except for extreme circumstances, and that police must wait 20 seconds before entering a premise during the day and 30 seconds for nighttime searches. Howell said he supports Frey’s new directive.
Some legal observers were reported as saying that Ellison and Freeman’s decision was correct in not charging the Minneapolis police officer. Experts noted that police can use deadly force if they feel they are in danger, but a private citizen must retreat and only use deadly force as a last resort. MSR legal analyst Angi Porter, however, did not agree with this assessment.
“I empathize with investigating a case and coming to a conclusion that doesn’t feel great,” she said in a series of tweets that the MSR received permission to use. “The question though is not really the law and what the law says here. The question is boldness and how much you want to push on the definitions.”
The Georgetown Law School research fellow continued, “Had Amir Locke been the White son of an affluent family, where would we be then? There’d be a whole outrage and a whole policy discussion.”
Porter argued, “Where reasonableness is at issue, put it to a jury. Reasonable minds can differ on what was reasonable here. I think this was a cop-out. I would hate to think it was a politically informed choice. I would definitely say there’s deeply rooted biases here.”
“Mr. Locke’s thoughts and intentions remain unknown and sadly can never be known,” Porter added. “We do not know whether Mr. Locke was awake or asleep when the officers entered the apartment. Nor do we know whether Mr. Locke thought the persons entering were police officers [or] intruders.
“Minnesota law authorizes peace officers to use deadly force when it is reasonably likely that the person would cause death or great bodily harm, absent action by the peace officer and when delay in doing so would be unreasonable,” she continued. “You know what ‘authorized’ means? It means permitted or approved. This should not be permitted or approved in any decent society.
“So, what they are saying is that they don’t think they could convince a jury that waiting 2.2 seconds to shoot in that situation made sense,” noted Porter. “People watching the body cam noted how quickly this went down.”
Porter, who recently was named American University’s Washington College of Law assistant law professor for the 2022-23 academic year, said, “In a post-Breonna Taylor world, City officials of Minneapolis allowed a no-knock warrant to be issued and carried out in this way? That is beyond despicable.”
Howell reaffirmed that the community must not stop fighting for justice for Locke and for changes in the state’s current use-of-force law.
“Now the question is how can we find restoration and recovery…[for] families that have lost lives to police violence,” he concluded. “We’re not going to just give up and say that there’s nothing more we can do.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.