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A year after a bipartisan compromise among Minnesota lawmakers restricted the use of no-knock search warrants, the issue has returned to the Capitol.
The lawmakers are the same, but something has changed.
His name was Amir Locke, the 22-year-old Black man shot and killed last week when Minneapolis police officers entered an apartment without announcing their presence – using a legal no-knock warrant – as part of a homicide investigation.
Locke, who was not a suspect, was stirred from a sofa – perhaps asleep – and emerged from under a blanket with a handgun his family said he legally owned.
On Tuesday, as more than a thousand demonstrators, many students, marched through St. Paul and occupied Summit Avenue in front of the Governor’s Residence, a fresh push to curtail no-knock warrants began anew at the Capitol.
“You shouldn’t be gunned down by the police in your home or a place you feel is safe, especially if you haven’t broken any law,” said Nneka Constantino, a cousin of Locke, who spoke at a news conference of top Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members of the House, who said they expected to introduce a new proposal to vastly restrict the use of no-knock warrants. A proposal could come as soon as this week.
Rep. Althena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, who last year proposed a similar plan, said she would make her new plan stricter, but she said she hadn’t finalized what the appropriate exceptions would be.
That DFLers would propose a measure that stops short of a ban is unsurprising. The Democratic-controlled House passed such a bill last year but it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, where key Republicans felt it tied the hands of police.
That might happen again this year. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who chairs the public safety committee, has said he believes there are some occasions when no-knock warrants are needed to preserve evidence or protect the safety of officers. But Limmer hasn’t spoken recently of how open he might be to further curtailments of the warrants. He couldn’t be reached Tuesday to respond to the announcement by the House DFLers.
In the meantime, other prominent Republicans have expressed an openness to the topic.
Three Republican candidates for governor – Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, and former Sen. Scott Jensen of Chaska – all called for more discussion of the issue.
In a video posted to social media, Jensen specifically pointed to an argument being made from what some might see as a surprising ally to those opposed to no-knock warrants: gun rights advocates.
GUN-RIGHTS ADVOCATE WEIGHS IN
For Rob Doar, senior vice president of government affairs for the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, an important Second Amendment advocacy group at the Capitol, Locke’s killing crystallized what he sees as a problem with no-knock warrants: the Supreme Court-upheld right of every American to defend themselves with a gun in their home.
He said many gun rights supporters he’s heard from “perceive it as agents of the state going in, violating someone’s castle, and killing them,” he said, noting that not all gun rights advocates see it that way.
While Doar, who also is a licensed peace officer, said he can’t find obvious fault with what officers did once they encountered Locke armed with a handgun, he thinks the entire situation is asking for trouble.
“The risk of encountering a law-abiding citizen, the risk to law enforcement officers and to the public, it’s too great,” he said.
The board of the Gun Owners Caucus hasn’t taken a formal position – or decided how far to push the issue this year with lawmakers — but Doar said he hopes he’s able to give hesitant Republicans some cover.
“If there is a Republican who’s looking for a reason, that isn’t going to get them accusations saddled with ‘leftist’ or ‘BLM’ or ‘antifa,’ we might have helped add some context for them,” he said. “Amir Locke could have been anybody.”
A statement Tuesday from Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, was more cautious.
“As more information about no-knock warrants comes to light, feedback from the community and from law enforcement will be an integral part of this conversation. Everyone deserves to feel safe. It is imperative to have proper policies in place to protect the public and law enforcement.”
Last year, House Democrats and Senate Republicans ultimately reached a compromise set of restrictions on no-knock warrants signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz. While the compromise was celebrated as progress – that also helped end a stalemate over the state budget – the actual changes were modest.
The new law raised the level of documentation police must present to a judge and made it harder to execute no-knock warrants outside of daylight hours, but it didn’t prohibit them.
The only ban on the warrants was this provision: “A no-knock search warrant shall not be issued when the only crime alleged is possession of a controlled substance unless there is probable cause to believe that the controlled substance is for other than personal use.”
After it passed, a number of advocates pointed out that police in Minnesota rarely used no-knock warrants to make raids when the only crime suspected is recreational drug use.
Speaking Tuesday about the changes in the wake of Locke’s killing, Hortman said, “It is clear that those were insufficient.”
Mara Gottfried contributed to this report.
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- Amir Locke’s cousin charged in St. Paul homicide investigation that led to Minneapolis police shooting
- White House considers expanding limits on ‘no-knock’ warrant
- Amir Locke protesters seek acting Minneapolis police chief’s resignation
- ‘We need something different’: Protesters march in Minneapolis after police killing
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