Officer safety cited in no-knock warrant ahead of Locke’s death

Published 2:14 pm Friday, February 11, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS — Authorities searching the Minneapolis apartment where  Amir Locke was killed by a SWAT team member said a no-knock search warrant was necessary to protect the public and officers as they looked for guns, drugs and clothing worn by people suspected in a violent murder, according to documents made public Thursday.

The applications for the search warrants executed at the apartment complex on Feb. 2 were released the same day that Locke’s family renewed a call for a ban on no-knock warrants. 

Although some names are redacted, Minneapolis police have said the 22-year-old Locke, who was Black, was not named in the warrants. Locke’s 17-year-old cousin, Mekhi Camden Speed, was named and was arrested this week and charged with two counts of second-degree murder. 

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In the search warrant applications, St. Paul police Officer Daniel Zebro asked that officers be allowed to conduct the search without knocking, and outside the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., because the suspects being sought in the Jan. 10 murder of Otis Elder  had a history of violence. Zebro also noted that Elder was killed with a .223 caliber firearm, which he said could pierce body armor.

“A no-knock warrant enables officers to execute the warrant more safely by allowing officers to make entry into the apartment without alerting the suspects inside,” Zebro wrote. “This will not only increase officer safety, but it will also decrease the risk for injuries to the suspects and other residents nearby.”

The warrant was signed by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who presided last spring over former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in George Floyd’s killing. A court spokesman said Cahill could not comment on the warrant because the case is pending.

Locke was killed seconds after the SWAT team entered the apartment where his family said he was staying. Body camera video  shows an officer using a key to unlock the door and enter, followed by at least four officers in uniform and protective vests, time-stamped at about 6:48 a.m. As they enter, they repeatedly shout, “Police, search warrant!” They also shout “Hands!” and “Get on the ground!” 

The video shows an officer kicking a sectional sofa, and Locke is seen wrapped in a comforter, holding a pistol. Three shots are heard and the video ends.

Minneapolis police say Locke was shot after he pointed his gun in the direction of officers, but Locke’s family has questioned that.

Locke’s death has sparked protests and an immediate reexamination of no-knock arrest warrants. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey last week announced a moratorium on such warrants  while the city brings in outside experts to study its policy. Some lawmakers are pushing for a statewide ban  except in rare circumstances.

Locke’s parents and relatives of others who died in encounters with police appeared at Minnesota’s Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday to press lawmakers to ban no-knock warrants statewide. Locke family attorney Ben Crump recalled how he and others thought things would change after Floyd’s killing  focused new attention on police brutality.

“Even though we thought we were being heard, our proclamations were ringing hollow when we were calling for better policing, more restraint, constitutional protections against the excessive use of force,” Crump said. He also called on President Joe Biden to ban the use of no-knock warrants by federal agents “in the name of Amir Locke” and said states should follow suit.

Crump, who also represented Floyd’s family and reached a $27 million settlement with the city of Minneapolis  in Floyd’s death, led those who were gathered at the Capitol to shout: “If the no-knock ban were in force, let’s be clear, Amir Locke would still be here.” They also chanted: “Pass the Amir Locke law now!”

The search warrants were carried out as part of an investigation into Elder’s death. Elder, a 38-year-old father, was found shot and laying in the street on Jan. 10 in what police believe was an apparent robbery. Drugs and money were found in Elder’s SUV, according to court documents. 

As they were investigating the murder, police sought warrants that would have required them to knock at multiple locations, as well as warrants that would have allowed them to enter unannounced. In the application for the no-knock warrants, Zebro said it was necessary to “prevent the loss, destruction or removal of the objects of the search or to protect the searchers or the public.” 

To support the no-knock entry, Zebro said Elder’s killing was violent and that the suspects, including Speed, were later seen entering the Minneapolis apartment complex. He also said surveillance video captured Speed trying to conceal an item, which Zebro believed was the murder weapon. 

The warrant applications say Speed and others — some who are named and some who are not — also have a history of violent crimes, including robberies, incidents involving guns and fleeing police. He wrote that investigators also monitored their “Instagram and Facebook social media accounts, where the suspects are posting videos and pictures while holding various firearms.”