No charges to be filed in death of Amir Locke
Cite ‘ethical obligation as prosecutors to only bring criminal charges which are supported by sufficient admissible evidence to sustain a conviction’
Call on policy makers to ‘seriously weigh the benefits of no-knock warrants, which are dangerous for both law enforcement and the public alike’
April 6, 2022 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman announced today that they are declining to file criminal charges in the February 2, 2022 shooting death of Amir Locke by a Minneapolis police officer.
Amir Locke’s life mattered. He was a young man with plans to move to Dallas, where he would be closer to his mom and – he hoped – build a career as a hip-hop artist, following in the musical footsteps of his father.
He should be alive today, and his death is a tragedy. Amir Locke was not a suspect in the underlying Saint Paul criminal investigation nor was he named in the search warrants. Amir Locke is a victim. This tragedy may not have occurred absent the no-knock warrant used in this case. County Attorney Freeman and Attorney General Ellison met with the Locke family this morning and once again send their deepest condolences to them during this incredibly difficult time.
After a thorough review of all available evidence, however, there is insufficient admissible evidence to file criminal charges in this case. Specifically, the State would be unable to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt any of the elements of Minnesota’s use-of-deadly-force statute that authorizes the use of force by Officer Hanneman. Nor would the State be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a criminal charge against any other officer involved in the decision-making that led to the death of Amir Locke.
A joint report of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, as well as an expert report and some frequently asked questions, are available on the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and Hennepin County Attorney’s Office websites. Additional investigative materials are available on the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s website.
Below is a brief statement of the facts and law which led to the decision in this case:
On February 2, 2022, around 6:47 a.m., at the request of Saint Paul Police, a Minneapolis SWAT team executed a no-knock search warrant on an apartment unit in downtown Minneapolis. Police body-worn camera video shows that nine officers entered the apartment unit, each announcing “police, search warrant” as they entered. Video shows an individual, who we now know was Amir Locke, looking over the back of a couch at the officers before ducking down and beginning to move around under a blanket as the officers continued into the apartment. Video shows that officers yelled additional overlapping commands such as “show your hands” and “get on the ground” as they entered the apartment. Video shows Mr. Locke under the blanket holding a firearm that was initially held parallel to the ground before being dropped to about a 45-degree angle, then being raised again in the direction of Officer Hanneman. Officer Hanneman then fired three shots, killing Mr. Locke.
Minnesota law authorizes peace officers to use deadly force while in the line of duty. This law is rooted in United States Supreme Court precedent. Under Minnesota Statute section 609.066, deadly force may be used only if an objectively reasonable officer would believe, based on the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time and without the benefit of hindsight, that such force was necessary to protect the peace officer or another from death or great bodily harm. Under this provision of Minnesota law, for a peace officer’s use of deadly force to be authorized, there must be, at minimum, a threat of death or great bodily harm which: 1) can be articulated with specificity; 2) is reasonably likely to occur absent action by the law enforcement officer; and 3) must be addressed through the use of deadly force without reasonable delay. The law does not allow for consideration of the victim’s subjective intent. In evaluating whether or not the use of deadly force is authorized, the law requires us to evaluate the totality of the circumstances from the perspective of a reasonable officer in a similar situation.
With this legal standard in mind, after entering the apartment on a judicially authorized search warrant, the officers encountered an individual unknown to them, later identified as Amir Locke, who was moving around under a blanket and held out a firearm that was pointed in the direction of at least one officer. This constitutes a specifically articulable threat. Officer Hanneman perceived that Mr. Locke’s movements and production of a firearm presented a threat of death or great bodily harm that was reasonably likely to occur and to which the officers had to respond without delay. The totality of the circumstances known to Officer Hanneman and the other officers at the time included that: 1) they were conducting a search warrant related to a homicide in which high-powered rounds had been used; 2) the suspects remained at large; 3) the suspects were known to possess firearms and engage in violent conduct; and 4) an unidentified individual was holding a firearm pointed in the direction of at least one officer with others present. These circumstances are such that an objectively reasonable officer in Officer Hanneman’s position would have perceived an immediate threat of death or great bodily harm that was reasonably likely to occur, and an objectively reasonable officer would not delay in using deadly force.
In reaching a decision about whether to file criminal charges in this case, it was not the role of our offices to evaluate whether the decision to seek a no-knock warrant was appropriate. It was our role to review whether there is sufficient admissible evidence to support a criminal charge. We have an ethical obligation as prosecutors to only bring criminal charges which are supported by sufficient admissible evidence to sustain a conviction. Under current law – and as awful as the circumstances of this tragedy are – there is not sufficient admissible evidence to support a criminal charge.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and Minnesota Attorney General’s Office previously collaborated on the successful prosecutions of law enforcement officers, and this collaboration has been vital to the decision-making process in this case. Our offices would like to thank the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for their thorough investigation. We also express our appreciation to Jack Ryan, the police practices expert we retained, who conducted a review of the evidence. When previously consulted, Captain Ryan has, at times, been extremely critical of the Minneapolis Police Department and has not hesitated to find fault when officers or the Department did not act reasonably.
Any time law enforcement interacts with the public, all parties should be able to go home safely. No-knock warrants are highly risky and pose significant dangers to both law enforcement and the public, including to individuals who are not involved in any criminal activity. The fact that it is standard practice for paramedics to stand by at the scene when no-knock warrants are executed speaks to the foreseeably violent nature of this law enforcement tool. Local, state, and federal policy makers should seriously weigh the benefits of no-knock warrants, which are dangerous for both law enforcement and the public alike. Other cities, like Saint Paul, and some states, have ended the use of no-knock warrants entirely.
Once again, we again express our deepest condolences to the Locke family for their immense loss. Nobody should have to lose a loved one like this. Our thoughts are also with our community members who were hurt and traumatized by Mr. Locke’s death. We join them in not wanting to see even one more tragic death like this.