No-knock warrants: Minneapolis mayor answers council questions about policies

Frey was reelected in 2021 and said some of his campaign statements were misleading. He said his language in describing no-knock warrants was more casual and did not reflect the necessary precision or nuance.

“I believe that my language and what we were saying certainly in longer form honored the spirit of this policy change,” Frey said Monday at the virtual meeting of the Policy & Government Oversight Committee. “But there were instances when it did not, and I own that.”

The mayor told the committee that before late 2020, there was state law on no-knock and knock-and-announce warrants but there were no “delineating factors beyond those options.”

The city had no policy at the time, he said.

What Minneapolis' current no-knock warrant policy really says

“Our policy reform then required officers to announce their presence and their purpose prior to entry when serving any type of warrants, including a no-knock warrant,” the mayor said.

But even after his Friday announcement, Frey said, there are still “extremely dangerous circumstances” when officers can enter without making an announcement. Examples of those circumstances include hostage situations and extreme domestic violence situations in which an officer may have to protect someone from the threat of severe bodily harm, he said.

The committee also heard from an expert on no-knock warrants, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and others.

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

Professor: No-knock warrants are dangerous

No-knock warrants are historically dangerous for police officers and residents, according to Rachel Moran, a University of St. Thomas School Law School associate professor and founder of the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic.

“Just to give one example, between 2010 to 2016, at least 94 people were killed in the United States as a result of no-knock warrants,” Moran said.

“What Mayor Frey’s November 2020 policy did was require Minneapolis Police in most situations to announce their presence before crossing the threshold into a residence,” Moran said, pointing out police could open the residence without knocking but were then required to announce their presence when they crossed the threshold.

Crump, who represents Locke’s family, said that in too many instances someone affected by a no-knock warrant raid ends up wounded or dead, and that most of the time, that person is Black.

If the police would have announced their presence “to carry out their duties in a safe, professional manner,” the death of Amir Locke could have been prevented, he said.

“This is an epic failure policy,” he said, “and that failed policy killed Amir Locke just as surely as the bullet that pierced his body.”

Family wants change in policies

Earlier Locke’s aunt, Neka Gray, called on officials to change no-knock warrant policies, saying the warrants mostly affect people of color.

“We stand together and demand this change. Unfortunately, Amir won’t benefit from it, but the next person will,” Gray said at a news conference with family members and racial justice activists.

Nneka Constantino, one of Locke’s cousins, said her family is struggling with knowing police are trained to disarm and deescalate, yet body-worn camera video shows officers firing their guns within seconds of entering the apartment where Locke was in the living room and appeared to be waking up.

“Our family is not na├»ve, so we understand that it was not necessarily a person, but a system of injustice, that has killed Amir Locke,” Constantino said. “It’s a layered system of injustice that starts with so many inequalities and abuse. Shame on you is not enough of a condemnation.”

Racial Justice Network founder Nekima Levy-Armstrong said Frey should immediately fire the officer who fired the fatal shot and suspend the other SWAT team officers. She demanded interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman be fired or resign.

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

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, 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 body camera 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.
Amir Locke's father, Andre Locke, and mother, Karen Wells, attend a news conference last week.

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.

“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.”

Demonstrators hold photos of Amir Locke during a Minneapolis rally last week.

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 Chief 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.

CNN’s Adrienne Broaddus, Amy Simonson, Hannah Sarisohn, Tina Burnside, Christina Maxouris, Ray Sanchez, Aya Elamroussi and Raja Razek contributed to this report.

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