Locke family: Amir law-abiding, 'loved by all'; attorneys blast no-knock entry

Amir Locke's father, Andre Locke, and others during a press conference.
During a press conference inside the Minneapolis City Hall Friday, Amir Locke's father, Andre Locke, left, and others show the way that Amir Locke had held his gun when he encountered a SWAT team acting on a search warrant on Wednesday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Updated 5:57 p.m.

Amir Locke’s parents and their attorneys on Friday slammed the actions of Minneapolis police seen on body camera video as reckless and unwarranted. A major Minnesota gun rights group said it’s also supporting the family, calling Locke a lawful gun owner who should still be alive.

The initial footage of Wednesday’s fatal shooting inside a downtown apartment shows a SWAT team entering the apartment with a key, without knocking, shouting “police search warrant” several times as officers enter and then quickly approach a couch with a figure wrapped in a blanket, later identified as Locke, 22.

The video shows Locke apparently waking up as officers yell. He can be seen stirring from the blanket and then holding a gun as he starts to move just before he is shot, roughly nine seconds after the police enter.

Critics of no-knock warrant entries reacted angrily to the video, calling it evidence of the danger inherent in the tactic. Late Friday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey imposed a moratorium on the use of no-knock warrants in the city and said he was tapping national experts to suggest revisions to the Police Department’s policy. 

‘What any reasonable, law-abiding citizen would do’

Locke's parents said their son was a delivery driver who was worried about recent carjackings in the region and so had a gun for protection. They said he had a permit. Permit to carry information is not publicly available, but Locke did not have a criminal history in Minnesota, which would have banned him from owning a firearm.

His mother Karen Wells said he was weeks away from moving to Texas to be with her.

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“Amir was loved by all, hated by none,” Wells said during a video press conference Friday with reporters and family attorney Ben Crump, who represented George Floyd’s family in their successful wrongful death case against the city after Floyd was killed in police custody in 2020.

Two people speak during an online video call.
Amir Locke's parents, Andre Locke and Karen Wells, speak during a press conference held via Zoom.
Screenshot of Zoom call

"My son Amir was a good kid ... an entrepreneur. My son Amir was a law-abiding citizen who did not have a criminal history,” added his father, Andre Locke, noting that Amir has family in law enforcement in Chicago. His mother said Amir “respected law enforcement."

The video showed Amir Locke was startled as police entered, and “he did what any reasonable, law-abiding citizen would do — white or black,” Andre Locke said.

Amir was a deep sleeper who didn’t deserve what happened to him, Wells said. “My son was executed,” she said. “My son is going to be that face and that voice of those that cannot speak.”

During a press conference Friday afternoon, Locke's family called for the officer who shot their son to be fired and prosecuted. They also welcomed state Attorney General Keith Ellison's involvement in the review.

"I am going to fight, every day, throughout the day, 365 days to make sure that Amir Locke gets justice for being executed by the MPD,” Wells said.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner on Friday ruled the death of the 22-year-old a homicide. The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.

Watch Friday’s press conference with the family of Amir Locke and their attorneys:

‘No-knock warrants have deadly consequences’

Crump and the attorneys working with him focused their ire on the Minneapolis Police Department and their decision to use a no-knock warrant to enter the apartment where Locke was apparently sleeping, saying the city had vowed to end the practice.

“If we learned anything from Breonna Taylor it is that no-knock warrants have deadly consequences for innocent, law-abiding Black citizens,” Crump told reporters, referring to an innocent woman who was shot and killed by police during a no-knock raid in Louisville, Ky., in 2020.

A screenshot from a Zoom call with six people.
Amir Locke's parents, Andre and Karen Locke, speak during a press conference held via Zoom after their son was shot and killed by Minneapolis police inside a downtown apartment. Attorney Ben Crump, who represented George Floyd’s family following his killing while in Minneapolis police custody, is representing Locke’s family.
Screenshot of Zoom call

Minneapolis police officials had announced in November 2020 that the department was limiting use of “no-knock” warrants, in which officers don't ask for entry into a target location or announce their intentions before going in, either for searches or arrests.

Amelia Huffman, the city’s interim police chief, said Thursday that knock and no-knock warrants had been obtained for Wednesday’s entries, which included two other apartments in the same building. The department will review its policies and procedures to see if any were violated, she added.

“We all know these events happen very rapidly, and as there's a gun emerging in your direction you’re forced to make a split-second decision about when it’s a threat,” she said.

The search warrant that led to Locke’s killing was tied to a St. Paul homicide investigation. Locke was not named in the search warrant and it’s not clear if he figures into the St. Paul case, Huffman said.

Demands for transparent investigation

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is taking the lead on the investigation. That’s been typical procedure in recent years when police wound or kill people in the line of duty.

The voices of local activists demanding transparency are being amplified by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. On Friday, the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus added its voice. Locke’s family attorneys said he had no past criminal history and legally possessed a gun.

“Mr. Locke did what many of us might do in the same confusing circumstances, he reached for a legal means of self-defense while he sought to understand what was happening,“ Rob Doar, the group’s senior vice president for governmental affairs, said in a statement.

He called the circumstances “completely avoidable” and “yet another example where a no-knock warrant has resulted in the death of an innocent person.”

Activists also criticized the original narrative released by the Minneapolis Police Department. A press release described Locke as a suspect and said he pointed the gun at an officer, which isn’t visible in the bodycam video.

“Amir Locke, a lawful gun owner, should still be alive,“ added Bryan Strawser, chair of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. “Black men, like all citizens, have a right to keep and bear arms. Black men, like all citizens, have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable search and seizure.”

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Friday he and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison will jointly review the BCA investigation once it’s completed to decide whether any charges should be filed against Mark Hanneman, the officer who shot and killed Locke.

In a statement, Gov. Tim Walz offered his condolences, adding, “an investigation is underway so we don’t have all the facts yet, but a 22-year-old life ending in gunfire is a tragedy.”

Minnesota, he said, “made strides last year, passing statewide restrictions on the use of no-knock warrants. But the events leading to the death of Amir Locke illustrate the need for further reform.”

He called for “additional changes to police policies and practices regarding the execution of search warrants.”

On Friday afternoon, the Minnesota ACLU said Minneapolis police failed to deescalate the situation when they entered the apartment and approached Locke.

Echoing earlier comments from civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, the ACLU wrote: “Bodycam footage clearly shows that police failed to ask Amir Locke to drop the gun, to warn that they’d shoot, or to take any other actions available to them while they were executing a search warrant.”

The group also renewed its call for a statewide ban on no-knock warrants, “which are inherently and unnecessarily dangerous.”