Minnesota legislators will soon debate banning no-knock warrants in most circumstances after last week's Minneapolis raid that resulted in the police shooting death of Amir Locke.
DFL Gov. Tim Walz has said that he would sign a bill banning the practice if one reaches his desk this session, which would dramatically expand on new regulations that became law last year.
"When we look at the moment that we are in right now and the way no-knock warrants were used in this situation with Amir Locke, we recognize that nine seconds is not enough time for anybody to properly respond in the way law enforcement would like them to," said state Rep. Athena Hollins, a St. Paul Democrat who plans to introduce the new prohibition bill. "That's how much time he got between them opening the door and shooting."
State Sen. Warren Limmer, the Maple Grove Republican who chairs the Senate's judiciary and public safety committee, told reporters Monday that he was not inclined to support a ban on all no-knock warrants.
"The one thing I do know is police activity is very challenging, especially when you're trying to arrest a dangerous criminal," Limmer said. "There are times when you have to use extreme measures to make their arrest, otherwise the public is in danger."
Limmer hesitated to comment further on the warrant that ended in Locke's death, but he indicated more scrutiny of Minneapolis' handling of no-knock warrant policies was needed. The city is being investigated by the state's Department of Human Rights and the Department of Justice since George Floyd's 2020 killing.
"These are policies that the city of Minneapolis is going to have to resolve," Limmer said.
Limmer's counterpart in the House, state Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said Monday that his committee would hear Hollins' legislation as early as next week and that the House planned to advance the proposals as a stand-alone bill.
"It is good clarity for the state about how these kinds of mechanisms and tools align with the state's expectations to protect people's human and civil rights as well as providing real strong clarity for law enforcement in terms of how they can engage in work that maximizes public trust," Mariani said.
State Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis, lives in the apartment building where Locke was killed and plans to co-sponsor the new bill banning most no-knock warrants.
"I think at the end of the day we have to think more imaginatively, we have to put people first and people's safety matters," Agbaje said.
Hollins said her proposal, which she'll announce Tuesday, would carve out exceptions for no-knock warrants when the threat of "immediate bodily harm" is suspected.
Under the 2021 changes, applications for no-knock warrants must be approved by a chief law enforcement officer and one other supervisor. They are required to detail why officers cannot detain a suspect or search a residence through other means and describe investigative actions taken to support the no-knock warrant. Law enforcement must also detail whether the warrant can be executed during daylight hours.
The new regulations passed last year barred no-knock warrants in cases where the only alleged crime is drug possession. That is unless officers can offer probable cause to believe that the controlled substances are present for reasons other than personal use, such as distribution.
The Legislature meanwhile added new reporting requirements for no-knock search warrants last year, requiring agencies to report to the commissioner of public safety no later than three months after the date the warrant was issued.
Reports must include the number of warrants requested, how many were issued by the court and how many were executed. The reports must also detail injuries and fatalities suffered by officers and civilians. The commissioner will begin reporting that information to the House and Senate public safety committees each year.
Over the weekend, several GOP candidates for governor — including two sitting state Senators — signaled support for doing much more on no-knock reforms this year. Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, called for "an immediate review of no-knock warrants at the Minnesota Legislature."
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said in a statement that "no-knock warrants have given rise to the death of citizens not subject to the warrant. These procedures require tough conversations to review the circumstances in which no-knock warrants can and should be used."
And former state Sen. Scott Jensen tweeted that such warrants "pit the work of police & the rights of civilians against each other."
The topic surfaced during a House hearing Monday outlining policy recommendations to address challenges facing the state's Black and Indigenous residents and other people of color.
Justin Terrell, executive director of the Minnesota Justice Research Center, said that Locke's killing "reveals the failure of the criminal legal system to make decisions in the interest of public safety, to protect life while executing its investigative duties."
Locke's father called for an end to the practice at a protest in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday. And the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus issued a statement late last week assailing the Minneapolis Police Department's actions. Locke's father said his son was killed while holding a gun he was legally registered to own. Rob Doar, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, called the circumstances that led to Locke's death "completely avoidable."
"It's yet another example where a no-knock warrant has resulted in the death of an innocent person," Doar said. "In this case, as in others, the public should expect and receive full transparency and accountability from law enforcement agencies that serve and protect our local communities."
The Minneapolis NAACP on Monday called on Walz to direct every law enforcement agency in the state to suspend no-knock warrants, "pending a determination by the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Board as to whether the no-knock procedure is an appropriate use of police power."
It also wants the governor to order the POST Board to hold an emergency session to "immediately declare that the use of no-knock warrants is not an allowed police procedure" in Minnesota.
Staff writers Briana Bierschbach and Emma Nelson contributed to this report.