Monday, August 8, 2022

Minneapolis City Council to Review No-knock Warrants in the Wake of Amir Locke killing | VIDEO

Amir Locke protest (Getty
Amir Locke protest (Getty

*(CNN) — With Minneapolis’ mayor imposing what he described as a moratorium on no-knock warrants following the fatal police shooting of Amir Locke, a City Council committee Monday will review the practice, which was supposedly all but banned in 2020.

The Minneapolis City Council’s policy and government oversight committee is slated to hear from academics and civil rights attorneycs — including Ben Crump, counsel for many families whose loved ones were killed by police — who will present “research pertaining to police procedures and no-knock warrants,” a news release said.

“The focus of the committee presentation will be to gain insight on current policies and next steps to guarantee the effectiveness of these policies,” the release said.

Council members have invited Mayor Jacob Frey, who last week further tightened requirements for requesting and executing no-knock warrants, to attend.

Frey and Minneapolis police leaders intend to meet with prominent activist DeRay McKesson and Eastern Kentucky University justice studies professor Pete Kraska, who worked with Louisville police after Breonna Taylor’s killing “and have spearheaded significant reforms to unannounced entry policies” across the country, Frey’s office said last week.

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Locke’s early morning killing

On Wednesday, just before 7 a.m., Minneapolis police were executing a warrant linked to a homicide probe in neighboring St. Paul, authorities said, when a SWAT officer fatally shot Locke, a 22-year-old African American who appeared to be asleep on the couch. Officers burst into a home, and as Locke tries to stand — still wrapped in blankets — he is seen holding a gun, police bodycam footage shows. Three gunshots are heard.

The 14 seconds of footage the city released do not reveal how Minneapolis SWAT members approached the apartment or how they reacted after the shooting. CNN has requested body camera video from the other responding officers.

Locke was not named in any warrants, police said, and his family says he acquired his firearm legally. Locke’s parents describe him as a budding figure in the music industry who wanted to help young people.

The warrants precipitating Locke’s shooting are sealed to “protect the integrity of the investigation” and will remain sealed until a “court directs otherwise,” said Steve Linders, spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department, which is investigating the homicide that served as the basis for the warrants.

Amir Locke parents - Getty
Father Andre Locke and mom Karen Wells attend a news conference last week. / Getty

“The City of Minneapolis told the public that it was limiting the use of no-knock warrants to ‘limit the likelihood of bad outcomes,'” family attorney Jeff Storms said. “Less than two years later, Amir Locke and his family needlessly suffered the worst possible outcome.”

Gov. Tim Walz said last week his heart goes out to Locke’s family, and while the state has made strides when it comes to no-knock warrants, Locke’s death shows the need for “further reform,” he said in a statement.

Walz has no authority to issue a statewide moratorium, he told CNN affiliate WCCO on Sunday, but there are now legislators who are “‘hearing voices’ that were silent on the issue until this week.” Lawmakers should also consider the best practices for getting violent criminals off the streets, he said.

“I’m sorry it took this tragedy, but there are voices now across the political spectrum that these are very dangerous,” the governor told the station.

City already had a no-knock policy

The mayor’s order prohibits police from serving warrants without first knocking, announcing themselves and waiting a reasonable amount of time before entering. However, it leaves open the prospect for an unannounced warrant if there is “an imminent threat of harm to an individual or the public and then the warrant must be approved” by the police chief, the mayor’s release said.

“No matter what information comes to light, it won’t change the fact that Amir Locke’s life was cut short,” Frey said in the statement.

Frey appears “committed to making changes to these processes in order to protect lives,” McKesson said, with Kraska adding city leaders “are demonstrating their dedication to real change through this collaborative partnership.”

In 2020, Frey and then-Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced they were instituting a policy which required officers to announce their presence and purpose before entering a building — except in special circumstances, such as hostage situations.

The policy also required police to re-announce themselves during searches when they move to areas where their initial declaration might not have been heard. Officers “should be mindful of any known or reasonably believed barriers or obstacles to cooperation such as perception barriers, mental or emotional capacity, physical and language barriers,” the policy said.

Police were also required to account “for attempted de-escalation in all use of force reports,” the mayor’s news release said.

Despite Frey’s supporters hailing the policy as an accomplishment, some observers noted the policy gave police supervisors much leeway to make decisions based on conditions they encounter.

“This is about proactive policymaking and instilling accountability,” Frey said at the time. “We can’t prevent every tragedy, but we can limit the likelihood of bad outcomes. This new, no-knock warrant policy will set shared expectations for our community and clear and objective standards within the department.”

… but is it working?

Officers were serving an average of 139 no-knock warrants annually at the time of the November 2020 announcement, according to the mayor’s statement. The news came about six months after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.

No-knock warrants persist, according to a review of records by the Star Tribune newspaper. Its reporters found Minneapolis Police Department personnel had obtained 13 no-knock or nighttime warrants so far this year — as opposed to a dozen standard warrants in the same time span.

The figures are likely undercounted, the newspaper reported, because some applications are submitted under court seal.

In the Locke case, interim Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman has said, “The officer had to make a split-second decision to assess the circumstances and to determine whether he felt like there was an articulable threat, that the threat was of imminent harm, great bodily harm or death, and that he needed to take action right then to protect himself and his partners.”

Locke pointed the weapon at officers, police initially said, but it was not apparent in the 14 seconds of video released by the city.

Locke was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center where he died of multiple gunshot wounds, authorities said. The officer who shot him, Mark Hanneman, is on administrative leave pending an investigation, per department policy.

Attempts to reach Hanneman and the Minneapolis Police Federation were unsuccessful. The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation, Huffman said.

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