EXPLAINER: Amir Locke case shines light on no-knock warrants

Feb 4, 2022, 5:45 PM | Updated: 6:02 pm

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The death of a young Black man at the hands of a Minneapolis police SWAT team is shining new light on how police carry out no-knock warrants.

Attorneys and the family of 22-year-old Amir Locke said Friday that officers basically “executed” Locke, and that they were “flabbergasted” that Minneapolis police haven’t learned from the botched no-knock raid in Louisville, Kentucky, in which Breonna Taylor was killed. And they were dismayed that Locke died at police hands in the city where George Floyd’s killing in 2020 sparked a nationwide reckoning with racial injustice.

Body camera video shows that the SWAT team, dressed in tactical gear, used a key to enter a downtown apartment shortly before 7 a.m. Wednesday. Not until after they push the door open do they shout, “Police, search warrant!” They also shout “Hands!” and “Get on the ground!”

The video shows an officer kick a sectional sofa, and Locke, who was wrapped in a blanket on the sofa, begins to move, holding a pistol. Three shots are heard, and the video ends.

On Friday evening, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey imposed a moratorium on no-knock warrants. While that’s in place, the mayor and police leaders will work with experts who helped shape Breonna’s Law, the ban that was imposed in Louisville in 2020.

WHAT ARE NO-KNOCK WARRANTS?

No-knock warrants are orders by judges that allow police to enter premises without notifying residents, such as by ringing the doorbell or banging on the door. They’ve been blamed in several killings of Black people, some of which have led to criminal prosecutions against officers, and prompted bipartisan calls across the country to curtail their use.

WAS THIS A NO-KNOCK ENTRY?

Interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman said at a news conference Thursday night that the SWAT team had both a regular and a no-knock search warrant. She didn’t specify whether the officers carried out a no-knock entry.

But John Baker, an assistant professor of criminal justice studies at St. Cloud State University, said the body camera video makes clear that it was indeed a no-knock entry.

Though no-knock entries have sometimes had deadly results, Baker said there are important and necessary reasons for police to have them as an option — including the possibility that they are going into a dangerous situation, or that evidence may be destroyed if an announced entry gives a person time to do so. In the Locke case, he said, authorities haven’t disclosed what intelligence the officers had before they went in.

WHAT WAS THE DEPARTMENT POLICY ON NO-KNOCK WARRANTS?

The Minneapolis Police Department restricted their use as part of a wide-ranging set of reforms following the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. Under the policy, which took effect in November 2020, officers were required in most cases to do a “knock and announce” by announcing their presence as they entered, making periodic announcements while inside and giving occupants reasonable time to respond.

But judges can also sign warrants in high-risk situations that allow “unannounced entry,” generally by SWAT teams. In the wake of Locke’s death, activists said they’re still abused.

WHAT DOES THE CITY’S MORATORIUM DO?

While it’s in effect, Minneapolis officers can only use the knock-and-announce approach and must wait a reasonable time before entering. The mayor’s order carved out a narrow exception for when there’s an imminent threat of harm to an individual or the public, and those no-knock warrants must be specifically approved by the police chief.

Two recognized experts — prominent activist DeRay McKesson and Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University — will work with the city to review and suggest revisions to the city’s policy.

WHAT DOES STATE LAW SAY ON NO-KNOCK WARRANTS?

The Minnesota Legislature adopted some restrictions last June as part of its response to the killing of George Floyd, but still allowed their use when certain conditions were met. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said Friday it’s already time to revisit them.

“The events leading to the death of Amir Locke illustrate the need for further reform,” the governor said in a statement. “To ensure the safety of both residents and law enforcement, we need to make additional changes to police policies and practices regarding the execution of search warrants.” He made no specific proposals.

WHAT’S HAPPENING ACROSS THE COUNTRY?

Louisville, Kentucky, banned them following the killing of Taylor in her home in March 2020, which led to calls for change nationwide. Oregon and Florida have also outlawed such warrants. Kentucky followed Breonna’s Law with a series of statewide restrictions that fell short of a total ban.

The Justice Department moved in September to curtail their use by federal agents. With limited exceptions, no-knock warrants now require approval from both federal prosecutors and ranking agency officials before seeking one from a judge. Federal agents are limited to using them in situations when an agent “has reasonable grounds to believe that knocking and announcing the agent’s presence would create an imminent threat of physical violence to the agent and/or another person.”

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EXPLAINER: Amir Locke case shines light on no-knock warrants