The Minneapolis SWAT officer who fatally shot Amir Locke will not face criminal charges over the 22-year-old's death.
Citing "insufficient admissible evidence," the office of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Office of Attorney General Keith Ellison said Wednesday morning they are declining to file criminal charges.
"Under current law – and as awful as the circumstances of this tragedy are – there is not sufficient admissible evidence to support a criminal charge," both offices said in their statement.
That conclusion applies to officer Mark Hanneman, who fired the shots that killed Locke, as well as other law enforcement officers involved in the execution of the search warrant, with the county and state offices noting it was not their role "to evaluate whether the decision to seek a no-knock warrant was appropriate. It was our role to review whether there is sufficient admissible evidence to support a criminal charge."
"Specifically, the State would be unable to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt any of the elements of Minnesota’s use-of-deadly-force statute that authorizes the use of force by Officer Hanneman," the announcement reads. "Nor would the State be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a criminal charge against any other officer involved in the decision-making that led to the death of Amir Locke."
Locke was the cousin of a homicide suspect who has since been charged in connection with a St. Paul killing. But Locke was not named in the search warrant applications and was not suspected of any wrongdoing.
Police bodycam video from the shooting shows the SWAT team did not give any notice prior to entering the apartment. Within 9 seconds, as multiple officers yelled, SWAT team officer Hanneman shot and killed Locke, who was lying on the couch under a blanket. He was also holding a gun, which his family says he had a permit for, but he did not appear to be pointing it at any officers when the first shots are fired.
Both offices undertook a "thorough review of all available evidence," according to the news release, and applied the legal standard around officer conduct to what happened. Wednesday's decision disputes the latter point, alleging Locke's gun was "pointed in the direction of at least one officer."
Here's part of the explanation from the announcement, which argues that the firearm was "pointed in the direction of at least one officer" even though the bodycam footage doesn't indicate this:
"With this legal standard in mind, after entering the apartment on a judicially authorized search warrant, the officers encountered an individual unknown to them, later identified as Amir Locke, who was moving around under a blanket and held out a firearm that was pointed in the direction of at least one officer. This constitutes a specifically articulable threat. Officer Hanneman perceived that Mr. Locke’s movements and production of a firearm presented a threat of death or great bodily harm that was reasonably likely to occur and to which the officers had to respond without delay."
Locke's actions — moving around under a blanket and holding a gun — "constitutes a specifically articulable threat" to the SWAT officers, the offices said. Meaning it was reasonable to perceive "an immediate threat of death or great bodily harm."
The announcement continues: "We have an ethical obligation as prosecutors to only bring criminal charges which are supported by sufficient admissible evidence to sustain a conviction. Under current law – and as awful as the circumstances of this tragedy are – there is not sufficient admissible evidence to support a criminal charge."
The fact that Locke appeared to have been sleeping at the time officers entered (without giving any warning prior to opening the door) makes no difference, according to an FAQ posted on the attorney general's website. (Studies have shown it can take as long as 30 minutes to fully aware and awakened after being roused from sleep.)
"We recognize that Mr. Locke may have been sleeping and that he, like others in the apartment, may have perceived the officers’ entry to be someone breaking into the apartment," the FAQ reads. "We do not dispute this and believe that it is possible that is exactly what happened here."
But prosecutors cannot demonstrate Hanneman's decision to use deadly force "was objectively unreasonable" based on the circumstances in the moment — he was out in front, mere feet from someone with a gun, with nowhere to take cover.
The attorney general's office also published a 44-page joint report reviewing the shooting, as well as an "expert report."
Both offices pointed to the use of a no-knock warrant (executed during overnight hours and at the request of MPD, despite St. Paul police asking for standard, daytime, announced entry search) as the pivotal decision.
"Amir Locke’s life mattered. ... He should be alive today, and his death is a tragedy," the statement says. "Amir Locke was not a suspect in the underlying Saint Paul criminal investigation nor was he named in the search warrants. Amir Locke is a victim.
"This tragedy may not have occurred absent the no-knock warrant used in this case."