The Potluck

St. Paul lawmaker faces potential ethics violation over remark during debate, residency questions abound

By: - July 12, 2021 2:52 pm

State Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, speaks during a Capitol press conference on June 28, 2021. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

State Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, is facing questions about his residency after a July Fourth traffic stop that revealed he holds a Wisconsin drivers license. Now, he faces a potential ethics violation in the House.

State Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, filed an ethics complaint against the embattled first-term lawmaker alleging Thompson violated House rules, alleging Thompson called him a racist during heated debate

The complaint, dated June 29, came a little over a week after a debate on a public safety budget bill amendment.

During his floor remarks, Lucero criticized Thompson’s Aug. 17, 2020 remarks in Hugo at a protest staged at the home of former Minneapolis police union president Bob Kroll and WCCO reporter Liz Collin. He used profane language aimed at minors nearby, and criticized police.

Thompson interrupted Lucero to say: “Are we speaking on the bill?” and added, “I have about had enough of this.”

Thompson, who was participating by Zoom, was ruled out of order, and he could be heard interjecting twice more. The crosstalk makes it difficult to clearly make out Thompson’s words, but Lucero’s complaint says he said twice: “I know you’re a racist!”

Reached by phone, Thompson said he would not comment on Lucero’s complaint and hung up after saying he was dealing with a death in the family. Later Monday, he released a lengthy statement after being under fire in recent days after receiving a citation in St. Paul for driving with a suspended license and not having a front license plate. The St. Paul Pioneer Press first reported that Thompson presented a Wisconsin driver’s license. 

Thompson accused the officer who pulled him over of racial profiling, sparking a rebuke from St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell who said he reviewed body-worn camera footage of the traffic stop and said it was conducted appropriately. He called on Thompson to apologize for his claims of racial profiling.

In his statement, Thompson said the whole thing was precipitated by a pretextual traffic stop — “the same type of stop that led to the killing of Philando (Castile), 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,” he said. “This was the racial profiling I spoke to, and I’ve been working to get rid of these types of stops long before this summer.

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin and DFL Gov. Tim Walz on Sunday separately criticized Thompson, saying state legislators are not above the law. “We expect all of our elected officials, regardless of party, to not only follow the law, but to hold themselves to the highest standards,” Martin said.

Walz similarly said he expects lawmakers to model good behavior.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Reformer requested the video footage but a St. Paul police spokesman said it had been classified as confidential investigative data. Body-worn camera footage is typically not public data, but a few exceptions exist in state law. Police can release it in cases where it aids law enforcement, promotes public safety or helps dispel rumor or civil unrest. The subject of the footage can also make a notarized request to receive the video and then publicly release it.

A St. Paul police spokesman said Monday that the department had not received a request from Thompson for the footage. Later, the spokesman said St. Paul police are checking with the city attorney’s office to determine if it can release the video.

Thompson said St. Paul police can release the video, which he supports doing.

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

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which last summer blasted Thompson for his remarks in Hugo, has also criticized Thompson and has begun raising questions about Thompson’s residency. The address listed on the July Fourth traffic ticket is not in his district. Thompson hung up before a Reformer reporter could ask about the discrepancy.

Thompson later responded by text when asked whether he lived at the Frogtown address on the traffic citation. “I live on the Eastside of (St. Paul). Raised kids on the Eastside and I plan on retiring on the Eastside!” he said. Other public documents indicate an address for him within the district. Nobody answered the door at that address Monday afternoon.

Thompson also said he didn’t have a front license plate and hadn’t put it on yet, had a Wisconsin driver’s license because he previously lived there and has considered moving back to care for his brother. He was ultimately ticketed for driving with a suspended license, which state officials said was due to unpaid child support. Thompson said said that was resolved long ago and he owes nothing. Court records seem to confirm that, although child support officials cannot disclose details about cases.

“I was able to drive away from this interaction while other Black Minnesotans, in very similar situations, have not,” he said. “The desire to be treated with respect and be able to drive away from this interaction safely was why I informed the officer I was a State Representative during our conversation.”

Thompson alleged he was racially profiled while speaking at a memorial for Castile, who was his friend and was pulled over 49 times, mostly for minor violations.

“I believe these pretextual stops are part of structures that operate to restrict access to jobs and housing, lock us up, and publicly humiliate Black, Indigenous, and communities of color,” he wrote. “Since being pulled over myself on July 4, my greatest regret is how the recent events have allowed us to overlook this time that should have been spent reflecting on the life of my friend and the changes that are needed to create a Minnesota where he would not have lost his life.”

Deena Winter contributed reporting.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.