Civil suit filed by parents of Amir Locke allowed to proceed

Civil suit filed by parents of Amir Locke allowed to proceed

Civil suit filed by parents of Amir Locke allowed to proceed

A federal court has ruled a civil case filed by the parents of Amir Locke — who was fatally shot while a no-knock search warrant was executed in downtown Minneapolis in February of 2022 — will continue.

Court documents show a motion to dismiss the case, which was filed last year in February soon after the lawsuit, was denied on Monday. The lawsuit alleges violations of Amir Locke’s Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, as well as unconstitutional policies and practices by police and a failure to properly train officers.

“In this particular case, the officers go in and they have to make a split-second decision about deadly force, if they have to protect themselves or not,” said Rick Petry, an adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, who explained qualified immunity can offer protection against liability for officers. “If you have to make a snap decision, as long as it’s grounded in logic it’s probably going to be okay.”

U.S. District Court Judge Eric Tostrud wrote in his opinion, however, that Officer Hanneman does not qualify for qualified immunity. The opinion laid out his reasoning, including “Plaintiffs allege facts plausibly showing that Officer Hanneman’s use of force violated Amir’s clearly established Fourth Amendment rights. As presented at this stage, the body-worn-camera videos show Amir was armed, but they do not conclusively establish that Amir’s actions justified the use of deadly force.”

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Is it reasonable or unreasonable for the police to take him into custody? Right there is a question about whether there is probable cause,” explained Petry. “If he’s posing a threat to administer bodily harm or kill someone, then we have probable cause to go ahead and violate that right, and if not then we can’t.”

Following the court’s ruling — which can be found at the bottom of this article — attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms issued the following statement:

“This ruling marks a critical step forward in the pursuit of accountability and justice for Amir Locke and his family. While neither we nor Amir’s family had control over the prosecution of criminal charges, this Order now gives us the ability to fully conduct discovery into the City of Minneapolis and ensure that every stone is turned over in Amir’s name. He was a promising and positive young musician who wanted to use his life to inspire young people in the Black community and beyond. 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.”

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The attorneys have previously noted similarities between Locke’s death and the death of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot in Louisville, Kentucky in 20202, and criticized Minneapolis officials for not learning from Taylor’s death.

Police said a Minneapolis SWAT team carried out a warrant on behalf of the St. Paul Police Department in connection with a homicide investigation. Officers then used a key fob to get into the apartment, and as they were walking through the entryway, they “loudly and repeatedly yelled, ‘Police search warrant,’” according to then-interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman at a news conference about the shooting. Seconds later, those officers encountered a man holding a handgun. He was pointing that gun in the direction of officers “when shots were fired,” according to Huffman. Police say one officer, identified as Mark Hanneman, fired his gun during the incident.

However, video released showing the warrant being issued shows the gun is pointed toward the floor. When asked about the discrepancy during a news conference, Huffman said the video didn’t show all the officers in the frame. When pushed further on the topic, she said that it would be up to county prosecutors to decide when reviewing the case. 

RELATED: Body camera video of fatal MPD shooting released; city leaders, activists respond | Attorneys, parents of Amir Locke call for justice following release of bodycam video in his death

Police later revealed that Locke was not named in the search warrant that was being issued. A Minneapolis Fire Department incident report showed he had been shot three times: Twice in the chest and once in the right wrist.

When asked for a comment, the city of Minneapolis sent 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the following:

“The City Attorney’s office is reviewing the order. This was a motion filed at the early stages of litigation, and the litigation will continue.”

According to Petry, qualified immunity could be reconsidered later as additional documents and information are filed as part of the case. He said it’s unusual for a decision on this to be made so early in the litigation process.

“I think that the parties should take this [opinion] into consideration, there has already been a finding at least from the pleadings that qualified immunity doesn’t apply,” said Petry. “That could be a basis for the parties to come together to talk about, yeah, maybe we should settle, maybe not.”

The decision also represents a paradigm shift for Petry, who pointed out the public seems to be more open to critically looking at police actions in deadly incidents.

“It could send a message there that the old way of doing things where all you had to do was raise qualified immunity and there was a pretty good chance and you’d be out of the litigation, those days might be over,” said Petry, who added it’s still too early to say definitively whether this case will have that kind of broad impact. “It is refreshing to see at least the cases are being litigated and judges are actually taking these matters seriously and not just knocking the claims out.”

You can find KSTP’s complete Amir Locke coverage by CLICKING HERE.