Crime, Law and Justice

Judge: Lawsuit filed by Amir Locke’s family can go forward

People listen during a press conference
From left to right: Attorney Ben Crump, Karen Wells and Andre Locke listen during a press conference about a civil lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis on Feb. 3.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News 2023

A federal judge has denied the city of Minneapolis’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the parents of a 22-year-old man shot and killed by a police officer in 2022. 

Amir Locke was sleeping on his cousin’s couch in Minneapolis on the early morning of Feb. 2, 2022, when a SWAT team burst into the room. Locke, who was not the person officers were looking for and was holding a firearm, was fatally shot by Officer Mark Hanneman about eight seconds after the officers entered, according to the complaint. 

Locke’s parents, Karen Wells and Andre Locke, sued the city last year, alleging that their son’s constitutional rights were violated, that the Minneapolis Police Department failed to adequately train officers and that the department has a history of using excessive force and no-knock warrants against people of color. 

Minneapolis asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit last September, arguing that body camera footage showed the officer’s use of force against Locke was lawful, and that therefore the city and officer had legal immunity.  

But U.S District Court Judge Eric C. Tostrud ruled Monday that the footage provides “dim, unclear images of the incident’s critical moments” and that it’s “plausible that Amir was attempting to comply with officers’ directions to drop the handgun and surrender before he was shot.”

Tostrud wrote that previous case law shows that inconclusive video evidence must be interpreted in the plaintiff’s favor.  

The ruling allows the lawsuit to move forward. In a statement, attorneys for Wells and Andre Locke said the judge’s order allows them to compel Minneapolis to provide discovery evidence. 

“This ruling marks a critical step forward in the pursuit of accountability and justice for Amir Locke and his family,” the family’s attorneys said. “The practices of the Minneapolis Police Department in February 2022 reflect systemic issues within the department that disproportionately impact minority communities and undermine public trust in law enforcement.”  

A spokesperson for the city of Minneapolis said the office of City Attorney Kristyn Anderson is reviewing the judge’s order: “This was a motion filed at the early stages of litigation, and the litigation will continue.”

Two months after Locke’s death, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and former Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that they would not criminally charge Hanneman for Locke’s killing, saying that state law gives officers wide discretion in using lethal force if they believe someone was being threatened with death or great bodily harm.  

The no-knock raid by Minneapolis police was requested by the St. Paul Police Department, who were seeking Amir Locke’s cousin in connection with the fatal shooting of 38-year-old Otis Elder the month before in St. Paul. Locke’s cousin, Mekhi Camden Speed, has since pleaded guilty to Elder’s killing and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.  

Family members described Locke as a talented musician who had legally purchased a handgun due to his work as a food delivery driver. 

Locke’s killing led to protests in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey had previously announced in 2020 that no-knock raids wouldn’t be used in most cases, but he tightened the ban after Locke’s killing.

Minneapolis police are now required to wait 20 seconds before entering during day time hours and 30 seconds at night.