The family of a 22-year-old killed when police in the United States executed a “no-knock” search on the apartment where he was sleeping has filed a lawsuit in federal court on Friday, alleging wrongdoing on the part of the city of Minneapolis, its police force and the officer who fired the fatal shots.
The death of Amir Locke on February 2, 2022, brought renewed scrutiny to the practice of issuing “no-knock” warrants, allowing police to enter buildings without announcing their presence first.
“Our hearts are broken, and there is nothing in the world that will make that better,” Locke’s parents, Karen Wells and Andre Locke, said in a statement on Friday. “Amir was a beautiful 22-year-old man with his whole life to be lived and we will never know how his contributions could have made the world a better place.”
They explained that they filed the lawsuit in the hope that “meaningful change will be his legacy”.
The family’s complaint includes allegations that police officer Mark Hanneman violated Locke’s constitutional rights when he opened fire on the sleeping 22-year-old, who was in the midst of building a career as a hip-hop artist.
It also included accusations that the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and its police department showed “deliberate indifference” in failing to properly train officers not to use excessive or deadly force.
Locke’s killing has drawn comparisons to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, who was hit eight times by gunfire during a separate no-knock raid in Kentucky. Her death in 2020 helped spark nationwide protests over racial injustice and police violence.
Like Taylor, Locke had been asleep when a police SWAT team arrived in the early hours of the morning at the Minneapolis apartment where he was a guest. Police cited safety concerns in pursuing the no-knock warrant.
Footage from body cameras worn by police shows officers using a key to open the apartment door, entering with guns drawn at approximately 6:48am.
Yelling “Police! Search warrant!” and “Get on the ground”, they move quickly towards the brown sofa near a TV where Locke was resting, wrapped in a large, white comforter.
One officer kicks the sofa, and Locke appears to jolt up, grabbing a gun. It is at that point that officer Hanneman fires three shots at Locke, killing him. The entire incident, from the moment officers enter the apartment, lasts approximately 10 seconds.
Locke had been a guest at his cousin’s downtown apartment when the raid occurred and was not a suspect in the homicide that the police were investigating as part of the search warrant.
His cousin, Mekhi Camden Speed, later pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder in the 2022 killing of Otis Elder. Speed was 17 years old at the time.
“The City of Minneapolis, as we’ve seen clearly and painfully in recent years, has a history of using excessive and unjustified force, particularly against Black men,” lawyer Ben Crump said in a press release on behalf of Locke’s family on Friday.
“Amir Locke should not have died one year ago, and we will use this lawsuit to fight for justice and for much-needed change in the way Minneapolis trains its officers.”
A two-year probe released last spring by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights concluded that the city’s police department had exhibited a “pattern or practice” of racial discrimination.
Crump has previously served as a lawyer to the family of George Floyd, another Black man who was killed at the hands of the Minneapolis police. A video of Floyd’s arrest — which shows a police officer kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes — went viral, serving as a catalyst for international protests and demands for police reform.
Crump represented the Floyd family as it pursued a civil case against the city of Minneapolis, alleging that its police force exhibited a culture of excessive force, racism and impunity. The city ultimately agreed to pay a $27 million settlement.
Locke’s shooting occurred as trials continued against the police officers involved in Floyd’s death. Prosecutors declined to charge the officers involved in Locke’s death, though, citing the fact that Locke can be seen holding a gun as he wakes up.
Friday’s complaint notes that Locke kept the handgun “pointed down” and kept his finger off the trigger. Instead, it accuses the Minneapolis Police Department of enforcing “inconsistent policies, infrequent training and minimal disciplinary actions to ensure the safety of its citizens”.
The complaint also denounces the administration of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who announced reforms to the city’s search warrant policy after Locke’s death last year.
Under the new guidelines, officers with search warrants are supposed to wait 20 seconds before entering a residence during the day and 30 seconds before entering at night. No-knock warrants are still allowed under the new policy in extreme circumstances, like hostage situations.
But the Locke family’s complaint asserts that the policy changes have had “little effect, as over 87 no-knock warrants have been executed” in their wake.
“No-knock warrants, like the one that resulted in Amir’s senseless death, are an issue that Minneapolis and our entire nation need to deal with,” another lawyer on the Locke family legal team, Antonio Romanucci, said in a statement.
“The City will review the Complaint when it receives it,” a spokesperson for the city of Minneapolis, Casper Hill, told the Associated Press in response to the allegations.
The administration of US President Joe Biden is currently under pressure to pass nationwide police reform, after another high-profile incident involving officers, this time in Memphis, Tennessee. There, a 29-year-old named Tyre Nichols was beaten by the police and died in the hospital three days later.
At his funeral earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris stood at the church pulpit and pressed the divided Congress to pass police reform legislation, including the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
“We should not delay, and we will not be denied,” Harris said. “It is non-negotiable.”