No-knock warrant in Locke case raises questions about Minnesota search law

The Minneapolis SWAT team that carried out a no-knock search warrant that led to the police killing of Amir Locke did so at 6:48 a.m. Wednesday, twelve minutes before Minnesota law says such warrants can be executed unless a nighttime search is deemed necessary.

The law, passed after intense negotiation in summer 2021, allows no-knock warrants between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. It also allows judges to approve nighttime searches if "necessary to prevent the loss, destruction, or removal of the objects of the search or to protect the searchers or the public." Police must outline in their search warrant application why an overnight search is required.

Minnesota's law also requires police to outline why they cannot use a regular "knock and announce" warrant. Two high-ranking officials in the police agency must sign off on the application.

Investigators looking into the shooting death of Locke have not released the search warrant application or the name of the judge who approved it. It is one of many examples where a lack of information has clouded public understanding of the case.

"The Legislature took steps last year to restrict no-knock warrants, and we need more information to determine if the law was properly followed," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in an email.

In his first public comments about the shooting, Gov. Tim Walz on Friday called for "further reform" to Minnesota's no-knock warrant law.

"To ensure the safety of both residents and law enforcement, we need to make additional changes to police policies and practices regarding the execution of search warrants," Walz said in a statement, without outlining the policy changes he wants.

Webpage removed

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said late Friday that he was temporarily banning no-knock warrants in the city. However, police will still be able to request one if there's an imminent threat and the police chief approves.

Minneapolis will work with two Eastern Kentucky University professors who crafted tougher restrictions to no-knock warrants after the 2020 death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, Frey said.

Meanwhile, Frey's allies backpedaled from claims made during the 2021 municipal elections about no-knock warrants. All of Mpls, which supported Frey in his re-election, recently removed a page from its website that claimed Frey had "banned no-knock warrants" during his first term. The group had been touting it as one of Frey's "key accomplishments."

Frey did not ban such warrants. His then-police chief, Medaria Arradondo, did restrict their use via a policy change in November 2020. 

The new policy requires police who use no-knock warrants to announce themselves before entering a dwelling, which SWAT officers did in Wednesday's raid.

On the campaign trail, Frey frequently pointed to the policy change as an example of community-centered efforts that he and Arradondo had been making after George Floyd's murder in 2020. Arradondo retired from Minneapolis Police in January.

Stricter limits failed

At the state Legislature, Minnesota House Democrats sought even stricter limits on when police can use no-knock warrants. The bill, introduced in early 2021, would have limited such warrants to first-degree murder investigations, hostage-taking, kidnapping, terrorism, or human trafficking.

At a March 2021 committee hearing on the bill, St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said the limitations would hurt police investigations and noted how a judge's approval was already required for all search warrants.

"I am opposed to this bill because it is dangerous and it is going to create an exponentially higher level of danger in an already dangerous profession," Anderson said. "This (no-knock warrants) is one of our most effective tools that we use. I cannot overstate that we do treat this with the proper reverence that it deserves."

The divided Legislature ultimately settled on a more limited set of restrictions, including the limits on nighttime searches and the requirement that two police officials sign off on a search warrant application.

The law also bans police from using no-knock warrants when the only crime alleged is drug possession for personal use.