Did Rep John Thompson lie? Police bodycam footage counters lawmaker’s 'racial profiling' claim
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA: Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party member and a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives from the 67A district John Thompson was cited on July 4 for driving while under suspension. Days later at a rally in St Paul, Thompson described the encounter as an example of being racially profiled by police. Now, police body camera footage showing the traffic stop has become public.
On July 4, a St Paul police officer pulled over Thompson near the intersection of Seventh Street East and Wacouta Street, very early in the morning. The reason for the stop, per St Paul PD, was because Thompson’s car did not have a front license plate.
"I thought we weren't doing pretextual stops in this state, but we are," Thompson said on July 6 outside the governor's residence at an event marking five years since Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer in Falcon Heights. "We're still getting 'driving-while-Black' tickets here in this state -- as a matter of fact, in St Paul. So let's just call it what it is."
As per the Star Tribune, Thompson, who has a Wisconsin driver's license, had his driving privileges revoked in Minnesota in April 2019 in a Ramsey County child-support case -- he had failed to pay child support in the county. Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said Thompson does not hold a Minnesota driver's license and has never had a license issued by the state.
What was seen in the video?
“Why in such a hurry?” the St Paul officer can be seen asking Thompson in the bodycam video. “I don’t think I took off like a bat out of hell,” Thompson responded. “I just drove off. I’m a state representative in this district right now.” Then the officer asked, “With a Wisconsin license?” to which, Thompson can be seen responding, “Yes, with a Wisconsin license. I’m state Representative John Thompson.”
Thereafter, the officer returned to his squad car and ran a check on Thompson’s license. After 14 minutes, the officer returned to Thompson and told him his license in Minnesota was suspended. When the state rep shook his head, the officer told him, “That’s what the computer says. If it’s wrong, you’ll have to deal with DVS,” referring to the Department of Vehicle Services.
Thompson then asked the cop why he was pulled over. “No front plate, and the way you took off from the light back there,” the officer said. “I’m too old to run from the police, man,” Thompson said. “You profiled me because you looked me dead in the fact 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.” The officer can then be seen telling him that “it’s on camera.” Thompson said, “I know, but what you’re doing is wrong to Black men, and you need to stop that.”
St Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell on July 9 defended the officer. Axtell wrote on Facebook, “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.”
He further said, “What it did involve was a public servant doing what the community asks of him. He was working a Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) traffic safety detail, which is a grant-funded initiative administered by the State of Minnesota. One of its goals is to ensure compliance with traffic laws. Simply put, the traffic stop was by the books. What happened afterwards was anything but.”
“I’m dismayed and disappointed by the state representative’s response to the stop,” Axtell said. “Rather than taking responsibility for his own decisions and actions, he attempted to deflect, cast aspersions, and deny any wrongdoing. At the Saint Paul Police Department, we work hard to be fair, to treat everyone with respect and to lead by example. We also take responsibility for our actions. When we make mistakes, we own them and try to fix them. It’s what our community expects of its public servants. The driver, an elected official who does not dispute driving without a front license plate, owes our sergeant an apology.” Thompson, in a statement, has offered no apology, a local CBS News affiliate reported. The report added that Thompson did say he supported the release of the video, and that the actions of the officer “were by the book.”