St. Paul police released bodycam footage Tuesday of an Independence Day traffic stop involving Minnesota state Rep. John Thompson after the Democrat lawmaker claimed that he was the victim of racial profiling. Following the incident, Thompson received a ticket for driving with a suspended out-of-state license.
A St. Paul police officer pulled Thompson over in the early morning hours of July 4, reporting that the state representative was driving without a front license plate, which is illegal in Minnesota. Thompson claimed during the traffic stop and via press statement afterwards that the cop pulled him over because he is black.
The body camera video starts with the police officer approaching Thompson's car. The audio is silent in the beginning when the footage buffered, according to the police department. The silent first 30 seconds means the initial words spoken by the officer and Thompson cannot be heard, Bring Me The News reported.
"Why in such a hurry?" the officer asks Thompson after the buffering.
"I don't think I took off like a bat out of hell. I just drove off," Thompson replies.
The officer notes that Thompson's license is from Wisconsin. Thompson said in the Monday press statement that he obtained a Wisconsin license because his family was considering moving back to the state to care for a family member.
"I'm actually a current state representative in this district right here," Thompson tells the officer in the body camera video.
"And you got a Wisconsin [driver's] license?" the officer asks Thompson further.
The cop returns to his police cruiser for about 14 minutes of the approximate 16-minute long video. After printing off a citation, the cop exits the squad car and approaches Thompson's vehicle, apologizing for taking so long. The officer says that Thompson's license had been suspended. It was revoked two years ago after he failed to pay child support, WCCO reported.
According to records, Thompson does not hold a Minnesota driver's license and has never had a driver's license issued by Minnesota, the Minneapolis news outlet reported. Thomson was cited by the officer for driving with a suspended Wisconsin license. WCCO learned Thompson's license was revoked in April 2019 for failing to pay child support in Ramsey County. Thompson's license was reinstated last Wednesday after taking care of the child support issue, WCCO cited.
"That's what the computer says. If it's wrong, you'll have to deal with DVS [the Department of Vehicle Services]," the officer tells Thompson.
The lawmaker then asks why the officer pulled him over, to which he responds, "No front plate, and the way you took off from the light back there."
Thompson responds to the ticket by accusing the officer of racial profiling, but the cop reiterates that the traffic stop was for the license plate, which is required by state law. The politician says he was unaware of the suspension.
"I'm too old to run from the police man," Thompson replies. "You profiled me because you looked me dead in the face and I got a ticket for driving while black. You pulled me over because you saw a black face in this car, brother. There's no way in hell I'm taking off with you behind me ... You looked in this car and busted a U-turn and got behind my car, and that's the reason."
Thompson continues to tell the officer that "what you're doing is wrong to black men" and instructs the cop to stop the alleged practice. "Thank you so much but this ticket means nothing to me," Thompson adds. "What I'm saying to you is stop racially profiling black men in their cars, sir. Stop doing that."
After the traffic stop, St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell called for the release of the bodycam footage and stood behind the officer's conduct. "I was shocked to hear that driver accuse the sergeant of making the stop based on race," Axtell said.
"These aren't accusations I take lightly, so I looked into the traffic stop, watched the body worn camera footage and spoke to the sergeant. This stop, made at about 1:20 in the morning, had absolutely nothing to do with the driver's race," Axtell wrote on Facebook. "The traffic stop was by the books. What happened afterwards was anything but," Axtell stated on social media. Axtell said that the elected official owes the sergeant an apology for the false race-based allegations.
Thompson's statement offered no apology, but did say he supported the release of the body camera video and that the actions of the officer "were by the book."
He argued the criminal justice system's use of pretextual stops is a core issue. "I was able to drive away from this interaction while other Black Minnesotans, in very similar situations, have not," Thompson said, referring to the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop and attempted arrest for an outstanding arrest warrant in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
"I was pulled over in what is referred to as a pretextual traffic stop. The same type of stop that led to the killing of Philando, as well as Daunte Wright this April," Thompson claimed. "Pretextual stops have been shown to not only do little to stop serious crimes, but they also disproportionately target nonwhites."
But the discrepancy has sparked questions about Thompson's residency and whether he is eligible to represent District 67A since representatives, by law, must live in the district they're representing. Thompson's legislative bio includes a St. Paul-listed PO box. Minnesota state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) sent a letter to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon on Tuesday, asking about the process used to verify Thompson's residency when he filed to run for office. Kiffmeyer asked about document requests and tools Thompson's office utilized.
The progressive lawmaker faces further scrutiny from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which wrote to Wisconsin's attorney general to ask for an investigation, saying Thompson had either "defrauded the state of Wisconsin" or defrauded his "constituents" in the state of Minnesota.
Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party House Speaker Melissa Hortman said via statement that she will be investigating the allegations against Thompson with the help of the Minnesota House legal counsel. Secretary of State Steve Simon said that his office doesn't have the authority to investigate residency allegations.
Simon noted that the Secretary of State's office has no "investigative or law enforcement powers" nor the manpower to "independently verify" the address of every candidate for office. Simon said that the law requires candidates to provide addresses as part of an "affidavit of candidacy" under penalty of perjury. Knowingly lying on the affidavit is a crime, Simon said.
A registered voter can submit a written request to have the Secretary of State's office determine whether an address provided in an affidavit is within the district they're slated to represent, Simon wrote. In the case of Thompson's circumstances, his office never received any of the aforementioned requests, Simon adds.
Thompson told WCCO to "please respect the privacy of my family and me."
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has since called on Thompson to resign after an investigation into his residency revealed multiple criminal acts of violence against women in his past. Local news affiliate KSTP reported that "court records dating back to 2003 show at least three instances in which Thompson was charged with disorderly conduct. Thompson was also charged with obstruction in connection with a 2019 incident at North Memorial Health Hospital."
"The alleged acts of violence against multiple women outlined in these reports are serious and deeply disturbing. Minnesotans deserve representatives of the highest moral character, who uphold our shared values. Representative Thompson can no longer effectively be that leader and he should immediately resign," Walz said.