Minneapolis releases body cam footage of Amir Locke killing

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey released a 55-second snippet of body camera footage on Thursday night showing the police killing of Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man.

The video is edited to first play in slow motion, showing an event that lasted less than 10 seconds. It begins with a Minneapolis SWAT team opening an apartment door with a key before moving in, yelling “Police! Search warrant!” with their guns drawn.

In just a few seconds, an officer approaches a man wrapped in a heavy blanket lying on the couch. Locke begins to sit up in the dark apartment as an officer’s mounted light illuminates his face and a gun in his hand. The officer, Mark Hanneman, then shoots Locke three times and he crumples between the couch and ottoman.

The SWAT team was executing a search warrant for three apartments in Bolero Flats in downtown Minneapolis on behalf of the St. Paul Police Department on Wednesday morning.

But on Thursday, Interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman said Locke was not named in the original search warrant after her department repeatedly referred to Locke as a “suspect” in a Wednesday press release. Locke’s family has told Minneapolis civil rights lawyer and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong that he had a permit to carry a gun.

“This video raises about as many questions as it does answers,” Frey said during a news conference on Thursday night after the bodycam video was released.

The release came 36 hours after the shooting, following public pressure from activists, city council members and state lawmakers.

Frey said he wanted Locke’s parents to see the video first, which they did Thursday afternoon, before it was shown to the public. He also said a state law governing the release of body camera footage was confusing for local leaders.

Body camera footage is generally considered private under state law, accessible only to those who appear in the footage. It is public when officers fire their weapons or use force that “results in substantial bodily harm” but only after the investigation is complete unless a law enforcement agency decides that releasing the footage sooner will “aid the law enforcement process, promote public safety, or dispel widespread rumor or unrest.”

“The state law should be changed so there is more clarity, there is more transparency and people throughout our city know what to expect with regard to its release,” Frey said.

Huffman recounted the events leading up to the shooting by Hanneman, who is on administrative leave as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigates. The Minneapolis Police Department is also conducting an internal investigation, Huffman said.

Both a no-knock and a knock search warrant were obtained, Huffman said, adding they will be reexamining their policies.

“Our agency is committed to meeting best practices … There is no single best practice for making these kinds of entries,” Huffman said.

Frey created a policy governing so-called “no-knock” warrants in November 2020, which requires officers to announce themselves as “police” and their purpose as “search warrant” before crossing the threshold of the door.

“The team was announcing ‘police search warrant’ as they proceeded into the apartment,” Huffman said.

Journalists pressed Huffman on why a press release from her department said Locke’s gun was “pointed in the direction of officers” when it appears in the video that the barrel is pointed at the floor. Huffman stopped short of saying the gun was pointed at the officers, saying the gun was “emerging” in the direction of Hanneman.

“We all know these events happen very rapidly and as there’s a gun emerging in your direction, you’re forced to make split-second decisions? about when it’s a threat,” Huffman said.

At that point, Levy Armstrong, who was among a half dozen activists at the news conference along with members of the press, interrupted Huffman, calling her lack of answers “unacceptable.”

“Amelia you’re saying you want to be the chief? Then act like it. Demonstrate integrity,” Levy Armstrong said.

Levy Armstrong walked to the front of the room, bringing the news conference to a halt as she demanded the mayor and interim police chief be more transparent about the investigation. She accused them of hiding behind the St. Paul investigation, as Huffman deferred most of those questions to the St. Paul Police Department.

“This is the anatomy of a coverup,” said Levy Armstrong.

Levy Armstrong recently agreed to co-chair a public safety work group the mayor convened following his reelection to make police reform recommendations. Levy questioned whether she could stay on that workgroup, from which one member already resigned because the meetings won’t be public.

“You guys aren’t gonna waste my g**da** time,” she told the mayor and chief.

“Here what we are seeing is business as usual,” Levy Armstrong said to Huffman and Frey. “We don’t want to see cover-ups. We don’t want to see whitewashing. People are asking very simple questions that have not been answered.”

After Levy Armstrong returned to the back of the room, activists pressed Frey and Huffman on why they released a picture of Locke’s gun if he didn’t fire it.

Reformer reporter then asked why Locke was referred to as a “suspect” in a press to which Frey said, “I don’t know.”

Asked by a reporter if she could answer, Huffman said police didn’t have as much information when they put out the Wednesday press release.

“It remains unclear if or how Mr. Locke is connected to St. Paul’s investigation,” Huffman said.

The mayor’s spokesperson then cut off the presser, and Frey and Huffman walked out of the room as one activist yelled “murderers!” at them.

St. Paul Police spokesman Steve Linders said Thursday their department could have executed the search warrants, but it’s typical to ask the local police to do them in another jurisdiction, because they know the neighborhoods and people better.

He declined to say what homicide they were investigating, saying homicide investigators were still out “working that case hard.”

“We didn’t want anyone to leave town or destroy evidence,” Linders said.

The police shooting comes as state lawmakers debate additional police funding for criminal investigatorsrecruitment bonuses and body cameras.

For footage on the Minnesota Reformer’s website, see the original story here. We have reprinted this Max Nesterak story with their Creative Commons licensing permission. Deena Winter contributed reporting.