AG Ellison: ‘Amir Locke was not a suspect, he was a victim’

Names curbing no-knock warrants, passing George Floyd Act, Minneapolis getting serious about ending police-involved deaths as steps to keeping deaths like Amir Locke’s from happening again

April 6, 2022 (SAINT PAUL) — Below are comments by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison as prepared for delivery at a media availability earlier today, following the announcement that he and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman are unable under current law to file criminal charges in the February 2, 2022 shooting death of Amir Locke by a Minneapolis police officer. 

Amir Locke’s life mattered. At 22 years old, he was starting out on his own. He had a job. He was making ends meet. He dreamed of being an entrepreneur. He was interested in real estate and branding his own business. He was about to move to Dallas to start a music career, as his father had before him here in Minnesota. 

Amir came from a loving family. His mother Karen, his father Andre, and many other family members and friends loved him dearly. He had family in the military and in law enforcement. He admired law enforcement. 

According to news reports, Amir’s parents counseled him about how to handle interactions with police: keep your hands visible, don’t make any sudden movements.  

One thing Amir was not: Amir was not a suspect. Our investigation found no evidence that he had any role in the homicide investigation that brought police to his door on 6:48 am on February 2. Amir was a victim. He never should have been called a suspect. 

The role that County Attorney Freeman and I took on was to determine whether current law allows us to file criminal charges in Amir’s death. In doing so, we had to evaluate the all the evidence through Minnesota’s use-of-force law, which is rooted in a 33-year-old U.S. Supreme Court precedent called Graham vs. Connor.  

As we announced this morning, we have determined that under that precedent and the laws we have, we cannot file criminal charges. Current law only allows us to evaluate the case from the perspective of a reasonable officer. That language is from the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and relevant cases and statutes. We are not allowed to evaluate the case from the perspective of the victim. With all the available evidence, we would not be able to prove in court that the officer’s use of force was not authorized under the law beyond a reasonable doubt. It would be unethical for us to file charges in a case in which we know we will not prevail because the law does not support the charges.

And still, a loving, promising young man is dead. His death leaves us with a wound in our community that is small in comparison in comparison to the wound that his family is suffering from. Communities have been torn apart by trauma yet again. The life of a police officer has been changed forever as well. 

If the law does not allow us to file criminal charges in this case, what can we do — as policy makers, prosecutors, society, and community — to keep a death like Amir’s from happening again? 

First, we need to interrogate whether no-knock warrants are ever really needed. There are inherent risks for everyone involved, including civilians and officers. Cities like Saint Paul and even some states have stopped using them and it hasn’t hurt their public safety. Yesterday, Mayor Frey issued another no-knock policy, which appears stronger than the previous one. Now, this policy needs to be actually enforced and obeyed. Then maybe Minneapolis can get results like Saint Paul, which hasn’t used no-knock warrants since 2016, with no harm to public safety.  

Second, Congress must pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. I don’t mean someday — I mean now. We need state and local action as well, including enacting the rest of the recommendations of the working group to reduce deadly-force encounters that Commissioner Harrington and I released more than two years ago, with inspiration and advice from County Attorney Freeman. 

Third, Minneapolis leaders talk about putting an end to in-custody deaths — but they need to get serious about doingit. The problems involving policing and communities of color in Minneapolis are long-standing and everyone knows it — yet it feels like nothing is ever done about it.  

Finally, as prosecutors we must continue to hold offenders accountable and uphold the law and standards of justice. As I’ve said before, we’ll uphold the principle that no one is above the law and no one is beneath it, either.