St. Paul police release body cam of Rep. John Thompson’s traffic stop

Republican senator and police group call for investigation into Thompson’s residency

By: - July 13, 2021 4:48 pm

Body camera footage shows Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, accusing a St. Paul police officer of racially profiling him for pulling him over for missing a front license plate. (Screenshot)

The St. Paul Police Department released the body camera footage of Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, during an early morning traffic stop on July Fourth, which shows him accusing the police officer of racially profiling him and informing the officer that he’s a state lawmaker.

During the stop, Thompson presented a Wisconsin driver’s license, first reported by the Pioneer Press, which has since embroiled Thompson in controversy and questions about his residency.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell defended his police sergeant, saying he was working a traffic safety detail that night and Thompson was driving without a front license plate, which is illegal in Minnesota. Axtell called on Thompson to apologize for accusing the officer of racial profiling and take responsibility for his actions.

The body cam video shows Thompson hand the officer a Wisconsin driver’s license as he says, “I am state Rep. John Thompson” and the officer saying he pulled Thompson over for accelerating abruptly and not having a front license plate.

To which the officer asked, “You have a Wisconsin license?” Thompson acknowledges he does, and reiterates that he is a state lawmaker.

After the officer goes back to his squad car and types up a citation to give Thompson, he tells Thompson he’s being cited because his driving privileges are suspended. Thompson again accuses him of seeing a Black man driving “this car” (a new Infiniti SUV) and pulling a U-turn and finding a reason to pull him over.

“I’m too old to run from the police, man,” Thompson tells the officer on the video. “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, and there’s no way in hell I’m taking off with you behind me… what you’re doing is wrong to Black men, and you need to stop that.”

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the state’s trade group for police officers, last week called on Thompson to authorize release of the body-cam footage, given his “signature issue” during his first session this year was rapid release of body cam videos.

On Tuesday, the MPPOA called on the Wisconsin attorney general to investigate whether Thompson committed perjury when he applied for a Wisconsin driver’s license in 2000, 2012 and 2020 even though he told the Pioneer Press in October that he’s lived in St. Paul for 18 years.

And a Republican lawmaker on Tuesday asked Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon to explain how Thompson’s residency was verified when he filed for candidacy last spring. In his affidavit of candidacy, an address in the district was crossed out and a box checked asking that his address be kept confidential for safety reasons.

“The public normally is able to view candidate filings to hold them accountable for living where they are running,” Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R- Big Lake, said in a press release. “In the absence of a public filing, it’s important to know what, if any steps, the Secretary of State took to ensure a candidate using narrow privacy protections actually lived in the district they are required to live in.”

She said the Legislature should act swiftly to close any loopholes in the law that would allow “favoritism or exceptions being provided for DFL legislators by a DFL Secretary of State.”

Some lawmakers in both parties opt to keep their addresses private, which occasionally raises questions about if they are abiding by state law requiring lawmakers to live in the districts they represent.

Simon responded in a letter to Kiffmeyer saying state law gives candidates the authority to have their residence be classified as private data, and limits his authority to verify candidates live in their district. Instead, the Legislature requires that candidates sign an affidavit, a sworn statement under penalty of perjury. Signing a false affidavit would be a crime investigated by law enforcement.

“I am happy to walk through the relevant election laws you helped pass in 2010 that provide guidance on these topics. I hope that this refresher provides clarity,” he wrote. “More broadly, as you know, the law does not provide our office investigative or law enforcement powers of the kind that your letter suggests … We don’t have guns or badges.”

He added that the law also allows each house to handle cases where the residency of an elected official comes into question.

Peter Bartz-Gallagher, communications director for Simon’s office, said the address Thompson provided the office in a separate form is in his legislative district.

Jamar Nelson, a spokesman for Thompson, confirmed that Thompson lives in the district, and said most people know that, noting he has received death threats at his home address. Thompson has said he received death threats after making inflammatory remarks during a Hugo protest last fall outside the home of Bob Kroll, then-president of the Minneapolis police union.

Nelson said Thompson had no immediate comment Tuesday. Thompson released a statement Monday saying, “In the video, you won’t see the officer do anything that isn’t by the book, but the issue is we need to rewrite the book.”

“I do not know the officer who pulled me over, and I have no reason to believe they have any hate towards me specifically,” he wrote. “Officers do, however, work in a system that has allowed these too often pretextual traffic stops to continue despite tragic consequences.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.