Minnesota lawmakers seek no-knock ban after the death of Amir Locke

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2022

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers said Tuesday they will push to significantly limit the use of no-knock warrants after a Minneapolis SWAT team entered a downtown apartment while serving a search warrant last week and killed Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man.

Locke’s relatives joined Reps. Athena Hollins of St. Paul, Esther Agbaje of Minneapolis, House Public Safety Committee Vice Chairman Cedrick Frazier and Democratic House leadership to announce a bill that would narrow the use of no-knock warrants to only a handful of situations like false imprisonment, kidnapping and human trafficking.

“We’re here standing as a united front for all of our family, just wanting to make sure that there isn’t another Amir,” Neka Gray, Locke’s aunt, said at a news conference announcing the legislation. “So another family doesn’t have to go through what our family is going through right now.”

Hollins said in an interview that the new legislation would go further than a measure passed by the Legislature last year as part of a package of police accountability measures. Barriers added last year to acquiring no-knock warrants include requiring applications for the warrant to be approved by a chief law enforcement officer and another supervisor, detail whether it can be executed in daytime hours and explain why officers can’t detain a suspect or search a residence by other means. The changes also limit no-knock entries for simple drug possession.

“Every time we lose a life because of these practices, it’s a tragedy,” Hollins said. “I personally feel a little guilty that we didn’t get it through last time. I keep thinking that we could have potentially saved Amir Locke’s life and I don’t want to go to sleep feeling that way ever again.”

At least four Minneapolis officers wearing protective vests quietly entered the downtown apartment using a key shortly before 7 a.m. on Wednesday, then loudly announced their presence. Body camera video showed one of officers kicking a sofa just before Locke, wrapped in a comforter, stirs and is seen with a gun that his parents later said he was licensed for. An officer shot and killed him.

Activists and Locke’s family expressed anger at his death, saying it appeared police had startled him awake right before shooting him, and also questioned police statements that called Locke a “suspect” and said he had pointed his gun at officers.

Several hundred protesters marched in downtown Minneapolis over the weekend, and high school students planned a walkout and rally on Tuesday to call for a ban on no-knock warrants.

Calls to end the use of no-knock warrants  spread nationwide after a botched 2020 raid in Louisville, Kentucky, led to the  death of Breonna Taylor in her home.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey imposed a moratorium on Friday where no-knock warrants can only be used if there is an imminent threat of harm and the warrant is then approved by the chief. The city’s policy that went into effect November 2020 requires officers to announce as they enter and announce their presence periodically, but allows for “unannounced entry” warrants in high-risk situations.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is reviewing the case for potential charges against the officers with the help of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd and former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter in the shooting of Black motorist Daunte Wright.

Several lawmakers released statements last week following Locke’s death, including leaders of the Democratic House and members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus. Gov. Tim Walz called his death a tragedy and called for further reform beyond the measures passed last year.

Hollins said the proposal has bipartisan support from lawmakers in both chambers, and the bill will likely be heard next week in the House public safety committee.

At the news conference to unveil the legislation, Frazier criticized Senate Republicans for having “watered down or outright blocked” most police accountability that emerges from the Democratic House since Floyd’s death in May 2020.

“My question to my GOP colleagues is what will you do in this moment?” he said. “Will you act on Rep. Hollins’s bill and the other bills addressing accountability or will you continue to prioritize politics and push false narratives to score political points?”

A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans referred a request for comment to a statement from Majority Leader Jeremy Miller. In it, Miller called Locke’s death “tragic and heartbreaking.”

“As more information about no-knock warrants comes to light, feedback from the community and from law enforcement will be an integral part of this conversation,” Miller said. “Everyone deserves to feel safe. It is imperative to have proper policies in place to protect the public and law enforcement.”