'It turned ugly fast:' DFL Rep. Thompson accuses officers of racism at daughter's traffic stop, police say
ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - State Rep. John Thompson abused his official position and tried to bully police officers during a Sunday afternoon traffic stop involving a family member, St. Paul's police chief says.
Thompson showed up after officers pulled over a woman he identified as his daughter, police said. The lawmaker screamed at police while making racial accusations, identified himself as a state lawmaker and handed out his business card, police say.
Thompson's brief career in the state Legislature has featured numerous controversies. He campaigns as a Democrat but caucuses independently after the House DFL removed him when past domestic violence allegations - for which Thompson was never charged - came to light last summer.
"It turned ugly fast," St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said of Sunday's incident. "It’s an absolute shame - that an elected official would attempt to intimidate and bully police officers, that he would misuse his official position, that officers doing their jobs should have to endure illegitimate claims of racism, that John Thompson is still serving in the Legislature."
Steve Linders, a police spokesman, said officers tried to stop the woman for erratic driving and expired tabs. Officers smelled marijuana coming from the van, which is registered to Thompson and others, he said.
As more officers arrived, so did Thompson. To diffuse tensions, police say they decided to seek charges out of custody and let the woman leave with Thompson.
Police are asking the St. Paul city attorney to charge the woman with third-degree DWI-test refusal, a gross misdemeanor. FOX 9 does not name suspects until they are formally charged. Thompson does not face charges, though police say the case is open.
"My officers were put in an incredibly difficult position and made the best decision they could at the time to de-escalate and avoid being unfairly vilified - again," Axtell said. "It was an outrageous scene. I wish state law allowed us to release the body worn camera footage. But we can’t at this time. However, Rep. Thompson or his daughter can. And I encourage them to do so."
State law limits the release of body camera video to certain circumstances, including to "dispel rumor or unrest," or if the subject of the video requests its release.
Last summer, St. Paul Police released video of another incident involving Thompson. In that case, the lawmaker made similar allegations of racism after St. Paul officers pulled him over, ultimately finding that Thompson had a Wisconsin driver's license. That led to the discovery of the past domestic violence allegations against Thompson.
Sunday's incident ended at 5:31 p.m., according to police. Thompson came to the Capitol for Gov. Tim Walz’s 6 p.m. State of the State speech. House floor video shows the lawmaker in his seat at 5:50 p.m. and checking his phone a few minutes later.
Thompson did not show up on the House floor for Monday morning's session, using the House's remote voting option instead.
Thompson nor his legislative aide returned an email and phone call Monday afternoon. The lawmaker posted a video to his Facebook page that did not address the incident but said he was fundraising to run for re-election.
On March 26, Thompson lost the DFL endorsement in his House district on St. Paul's east side to Liz Lee.
It's too soon to know whether fellow House members will file an ethics complaint against Thompson. No one ever filed a complaint for the driver's license or domestic violence controversies. In a separate case, Thompson was forced to apologize in January after calling a Republican member a racist during a House floor debate last year.