A Hennepin County judge approved the no-knock warrant that led to the police killing of Amir Locke during a raid in downtown Minneapolis last week in order to ensure officer safety and preserve potential evidence in a St. Paul homicide investigation, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.
Authorities claimed that a no-knock operation would "decrease the risk for injuries to the suspects and other residents" because the individuals they sought had violent criminal histories and were known to be armed.
The stealth entry to execute the search warrant was approved Feb. 1, the day before Minneapolis SWAT officers stormed into the Bolero Flats apartment yelling "Search warrant!" without knocking. Locke, 22, was on a couch under a blanket, and he stirred after an officer kicked the couch. He had a gun in his right hand and was shot within seconds.
The predawn raid stems from the fatal shooting of 38-year-old Otis Elder during an apparent drug transaction Jan. 10 outside a music recording studio in St. Paul. The latest court filings accuse Locke's 17-year-old cousin Mekhi Speed and others with him of "attempting to rob [Elder] of money and/or drugs."
Speed was charged Tuesday with second-degree murder for the killing of Elder. County prosecutors want to certify him to be tried as an adult. He remains in custody ahead of a Feb. 15 court appearance.
Speed was living with his mother in a different unit of the Bolero Flats Apartment Homes at 1117 S. Marquette Av. in downtown Minneapolis but had access to another apartment raided by police.
Locke was not the subject of the search warrant, nor were the others who were present in the apartment at the time police burst in: Speed's older brother and the brother's girlfriend. No records indicate that Locke was thought to be involved.
His death has revived intense debate about the use of no-knock search warrants, which critics say unnecessarily escalate police encounters. Thousands of protesters have since taken to the streets — and some have walked out of school — to demand justice for Locke and the resignations of Mayor Jacob Frey and Interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman.
The no-knock search warrant was approved by Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, and it stated that an unannounced entry was "necessary to prevent the loss, destruction, or removal of the objects of said search or to protect the safety of the searchers or the public."
Cahill presided over the widely watched trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who last year was convicted of murdering George Floyd. He was later sentenced to more than 22 years in prison.
The warrants reveal new details about the original case and what ultimately led investigators to target the Bolero Flats complex. Surveillance footage from the crime scene in St. Paul's Hamline-Midway neighborhood helped track a stolen Mercedes-Benz, used in the commission of multiple armed robberies last year, back to the Minneapolis apartment. Two males, one of whom appeared to be concealing a firearm, exited the vehicle wearing clothes that matched the suspect's description, court records show. Police later identified the armed individual as Speed.
The names of two other juveniles were redacted from the search warrant. Their exact involvement in the case is not yet clear.
The application made by St. Paul police for the warrant cited numerous concerns about the potential danger that Speed and his accomplices posed to officers in a raid. It claimed that the suspects used a .233-caliber weapon — which fires rounds capable of penetrating police body armor — to fatally shoot Elder.
"These suspects have been actively involved in numerous crimes throughout the metro area since at least November 2021 to include robberies, firearm incidents, and fleeing police in a motor vehicle," the warrant application read. "The suspects have been posting videos and photos on Instagram holding several different firearms to include a rifle, possibly the murder weapon."
Carrying out the raid before sunrise without knocking was necessary, the application continued, because this "enables officers to execute the warrant more safely by allowing officers to make entry into the apartment without alerting the subjects inside.."
Officers collected a range of items inside the apartment, including an empty gun case, bags of marijuana, smartphones and clothing.
As their investigation progressed last week, St. Paul police filed standard "knock and announce" applications for search warrant affidavits for three Bolero Flats apartments. Detectives were forced to resubmit the requests the following day after the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) insisted on a no-knock entry.
The MPD would not have agreed to execute the search in its jurisdiction otherwise, according to a law enforcement source who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The unsealed warrants make no reference to that issue.
St. Paul Deputy Chief Stacy Murphy and Sheila Lambie, senior commander of the homicide unit, each signed off on the no-knock warrants. However, it's not yet immediately clear which Minneapolis police officials demanded such an operation.
Reached for comment Thursday, St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders reiterated that it is standard practice to request assistance from neighboring agencies when a search is required outside city boundaries because local authorities are thought to have more familiarity with the area and can move quickly to preserve evidence.
"We defer to their policies and practices and let them determine the tactics," he said, declining to elaborate on why the department satisfied the request for a no-knock raid when they don't execute such warrants in their own city. The force has not served a no-knock warrant since 2016.
Amid the mounting outrage over Locke's death and the use of no-knock raids by law enforcement, Elder's family has felt that their loss is being overshadowed.
At the time of his death, Otis Elder was heading toward dinner to celebrate his daughter's 4th birthday. Speed's arrest has done little to assuage their grief.
"It's all so senseless," Elder's younger sister, Motika Elder, told the Star Tribune. "Amir would still be alive — my brother would still be alive if that little boy hadn't done what he did."