Minnesota state Rep. John Thompson won election in November on the strength of his reputation as a racial-justice activist, but his latest racism allegations against a police officer now threaten his budding legislative career.
A routine traffic stop for a missing license plate on July 4 became the biggest political story in the state after Mr. Thompson accused the officer who pulled him over of racial profiling, resulting in the release of records that raised questions about whether the lawmaker legally resides in his district or even in the state.
Mr. Thompson gave the officer a Wisconsin driver’s license, one that he has carried for at least 20 years, that lists his address in Superior, Wisconsin. Under state law, he must reside in his East St. Paul district to represent it in the state Legislature.
Now Mr. Thompson is facing calls to clear up his residency quagmire and apologize to police after the release of body-camera footage from the stop that showed nothing out of the ordinary, even as the Democratic lawmaker goes on trial this week on a 2019 obstruction charge.
“Representative Thompson’s false allegation of racism to deflect from his own egregious behavior is unconscionable and completely unjustifiable,” said St. Paul Police Federation President Mark Ross in a statement. “His audacious claims against a St. Paul police officer are simply nonsense.”
In a lengthy statement to the Pioneer Press, Mr. Thompson did not apologize but referred to Philando Castile, the 32-year-old Black man shot and killed in a 2016 traffic stop in St. Anthony, Minnesota, that resulted in a $3 million settlement with the Castile family.
“I was pulled over in what is referred to as a pretextual traffic stop,” said Mr. Thompson in the Monday statement. “The same type of stop that led to the killing of Philando, as well as Daunte Wright this April. Pretextual stops have been shown to not only do little to stop serious crimes, but they also disproportionately target nonwhites. This was the racial profiling I spoke to.”
On the video, Mr. Thompson tells the officer, “You pulled me over because you saw a Black face in this car.” Two days later, he said at a rally to honor Castile that “I’m still being profiled” and that “we’re still getting driving-while-Black tickets here in this state.”
For a week, however, he either ignored or disregarded growing calls by police, media and lawmakers, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, to allow the release of the body-camera footage, which was ultimately posted Wednesday by St. Paul police.
Police spokesperson Steve Linders said that the department did so after consulting with the city attorney, who ruled that the footage could be released under the law without Mr. Thompson’s authorization to “dispel widespread rumor.”
“It’s important to note that Rep. Thompson did put out a statement saying that he did support the release of the video, although he never did make an official request for that to happen,” said Mr. Linders.
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell called on Mr. Thompson to apologize, describing the traffic stop as “by the books.”
This was not the first time Mr. Thompson has been challenged over a public racism charge.
Republican state Rep. Eric Lucero filed an ethics complaint last month against the Democrat after he interrupted him repeatedly on the House floor during a June 19 debate, saying twice, “I know you’re a racist.”
Mr. Lucero, who is Hispanic, blasted the “shockingly racist, bigoted and narrow-minded comments,” which came during a debate about public safety in which the Republican referred to Mr. Thompson’s profanity-laced tirade at an August protest outside the police union president’s home in Hugo.
Mr. Thompson, who had already won the Democratic primary, told the crowd in the residential neighborhood that “this whole godd—- state burned down for 20 godd—- dollars, do you think we give a f— about burning Hugo down?”
“Thompson’s vitriolic actions and language last summer in Hugo to the uncertainties of his actual residency need to be addressed, answered and explained,” said Minnesota GOP chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan. “Nobody is above the law and Minnesotans deserve honest representation in the state legislature.”
In November, he was arrested outside North Memorial Medical Center and charged with trespassing, which was later dropped, and misdemeanor obstruction of the legal process, which he is challenging in Hennepin County Court.
Mr. Thompson says he and others were there to visit his son’s friend but were treated rudely and disrespectfully by security, while police say a fight broke out involving 50 to 75 people and forcing the hospital to go on lockdown for 90 minutes.
“He called them racist on the scene and he says an officer then called him an idiot and arrested him for trespassing,” said KARE-TV.
Mr. Thompson has had run-ins with the law before, as shown in public records, but questions about his residency and driver’s license have dominated the local media coverage.
The legislator said in his statement that he has lived and worked for many years in St. Paul, but he listed a P.O. Box on his affidavit of candidacy in 2020. His legislative website also lists a post office box.
The street address listed on his current court case is not within the boundaries of his East St. Paul district, according to local news reports.
In addition, Mr. Thompson has never had a Minnesota driver’s license, even though state law requires that residents obtain a state driver’s license within 60 days. It turns out he was ineligible to obtain one over an unpaid child-support bill that he said has since been resolved.
He has renewed his Wisconsin license repeatedly since 2000, including in November, when he was elected to the state legislature.
“I previously lived in Wisconsin, and my family and I considered moving back there to care for a family member, who will now be coming to live here,” Mr. Thompson said. “I live and work in St. Paul, and have for many years. My Wisconsin license hadn’t previously posed an issue for me, but I will now be changing it to a Minnesota license, as I should have before.
Minnesota Secretary of State Scott Simon’s office has said that it has no authority to investigate Mr. Thompson’s residency, which leaves the question of determining Mr. Thompson’s residency to the Democrat-controlled state legislature, Fox9 reported.
Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chair Ken Martin said he was “disappointed” by Mr. Thompson’s recent actions, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the state’s largest newspaper, said in an editorial that more needs to be done.
“Thompson should be held accountable for his accusations,” said the editorial. “He should be required to furnish proof that he indeed resides in the state of Minnesota and, if he does, explain his application for a Wisconsin license. House leaders should insist that he take responsibility for his actions.”
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association has asked the Wisconsin Department of Justice to investigate whether the legislator committed perjury with his driver’s license renewals.
“It is clear Rep. John Thompson either defrauded Wisconsin and committed a crime in your state; or he violated Minnesota law and defrauded his ‘constituents’ here in Minnesota,” said union executive director Brian Peters in a Monday letter. “Either way, it is unbecoming of his station, the distinguished body of the Minnesota House of Representatives, and is much, much less than Minnesotans deserve.”