Minnesota lawmakers seek to sharply limit no-knock warrants

A man speaks into a mic at a podium
Andre Locke speaks during a press conference at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on the one-year anniversary of his son’s death on Feb. 2.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Minnesota lawmakers appear within reach of an agreement on significant restrictions to no-knock warrant searches conducted by law enforcement.

Discussion over exact wording is continuing. But deliberations Tuesday in a House-Senate conference committee indicated that lawmakers involved in the negotiations are prepared to bar courts from allowing the warrants in most cases. A remaining sticking point is over protocol for carrying out high-risk searches.

“We're all trying to get to the best place we can be even if none of us love it,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville.

If it’s made, the change would be part of a broader public safety policy and budget plan that must go back to the House and Senate for ultimate approval.

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The conference committee debating that package took testimony from law enforcement and from the father of Amir Locke, who was killed during a no-knock search of a Minneapolis apartment in early 2022. Andre Locke said restricting the tactic is necessary for “saving lives – not only civilians but for police officers as well.”

A woman wears a bracelet
Karen Wells wears a bracelet depicting her son Amir Locke during a press conference on Feb. 3.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News

Andre Locke said his family is still coping with the loss of 22-year-old Amir, who wasn’t the subject of the search but was roused from his sleep on a couch when a team of officers entered the apartment. According to body camera footage, he reached for a gun that he kept pointed at the ground when an officer fired at him shortly after entry.

“Our hearts are broken and nothing is going to change that. And nothing is going to bring that back,” Andre Locke told lawmakers. “But we have the chance to lay the groundwork for his legacy.”

The proposal would set a higher standard for courts before a no-knock warrant is issued. An exception would be when the facts show an imminent threat of death or serious harm to officers or others. There would also have to be a showing that the search couldn’t happen when the premises is unoccupied.

It would also require officers to “loudly and understandably” announce their presence before moving in; dispute remains over whether law enforcement would have to reasonably wait for a subject to be alert.

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy, who is also the chair of Minnesota's peace officer licensing and standards board, said no-knock warrants have proven too risky for all involved.

Three people speak at a podium
Andre Locke (left), the father of Amir Locke, with attorney Ben Crump and Locke’s mother Karen Wells on Feb. 3. “Our hearts are broken and nothing is going to change that. And nothing is going to bring that back. But we have the chance to lay the groundwork for his legacy," Andre said.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

She said national tactical trainers are moving away from the practice anyway.

“They trained our tactical units in a better way to do these, which does not include no-knock warrants,” she said. “So we know better. Please, let's do better. Let's save the lives of our constituents and of our officers.”

Two law enforcement associations asked for more clarity to ensure that subjects don't put officers in harm's way. Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said wording requiring some level of a subject’s alertness is too open to interpretation.

“I worry that officers, waiting and second-guessing while there is no intention to comply on the other side of the door, what they might be going into,” Potts said.

House Public Safety Chair Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, said the measure has changed from what was initially proposed.

“We had a pretty narrow exception drawn to the complete ban. And then we got stakeholder feedback,” she said. “And then really sort of, I would say wordsmithed that language to make it clearer than what was passed off the House floor. The goal and the intent was always the same.”