Minnesota Rep. John Thompson's admission that he's held an out-of-state driver's license for years led a state police association on Tuesday to ask the Wisconsin attorney general to pursue charges against him, and it led one GOP senator to question the process for verifying where legislators live.
The Democrat, who represents part of St. Paul's East Side, has faced sharp scrutiny related to a traffic stop on July 4 and the subsequent discovery that he has a Wisconsin driver's license. St. Paul police released body camera footage Tuesday of the traffic stop, during which the state legislator — who has been pushing at the Capitol to end such low-level stops — told the officer that he was pulled over for "driving while Black."
In the 16-minute body camera video, an officer pulled Thompson over and asked him why he was in such a hurry. Thompson said he didn't think he was driving fast, adding that he's a state representative in the district.
"With a Wisconsin license?" the officer asked. "Yes, with a Wisconsin license. I'm state Representative John Thompson," he replied.
Concerns about his license escalated Tuesday, as the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association requested that the Wisconsin attorney general investigate Thompson for repeatedly getting a Wisconsin license while living in Minnesota, saying he "defrauded Wisconsin."
Thompson said in a statement Monday that he previously lived in Wisconsin and considered moving back there with his family to care for a family member, but that person is instead coming to live in Minnesota.
"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," he said.
Thompson signed and completed a required affidavit of candidacy with the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office in 2020. According to a copy of the affidavit, Johnson entered an address before crossing it off and writing a P.O. Box address. The initial address he entered is located within his legislative district.
Republican Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer asked Secretary of State Steve Simon to explain his process for verifying Thompson's residency when he was running for office last year, and she suggested legislators might need to change the law.
"Minnesotans have a right to know what the Secretary of State did to determine Representative Thompson was eligible to seek office in House District 67A," Kiffmeyer said in a statement. "The public normally is able to view candidate filings to hold them accountable for living where they are running. 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."
Simon responded by outlining the state law that allows candidates to keep their residence private, and he noted that his office doesn't have "investigative or law enforcement powers of the kind that your letter suggests."
Thompson got involved in politics after police fatally shot his friend Philando Castile in Falcon Heights five years ago during a traffic stop. He took office this year aiming to address policing and systemic racism. He and other House Democrats made a failed attempt this session to end traffic stops for low-level traffic or equipment violations, which he said disproportionately target people who are not white.
The body camera footage released Tuesday shows Thompson asking why he was pulled over, and the officer saying it was because he didn't have a front license plate and "the way you took off."
"I'm too old to run from the police. You profiled me because you looked me dead in the face and I got a ticket for driving while Black," Thompson replied. "You pulled me over because you saw a Black face in this car, brother, and there's no way in hell that I'm taking off with you behind me."
The officer denied profiling Thompson.
"What you're doing is wrong to Black men, and you need to stop that. Thank you so much but this ticket means nothing to me," Thompson said shortly before driving away. A St. Paul address listed for Thompson on the citation from the July 4 stop is located outside his legislative district. He did not respond to a request to clarify his address.
Thompson's response to his traffic stop has drawn criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin, who said he was "disappointed" by Thompson's actions, and that no one is above the law.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement Tuesday that there's a process for two or more members to file a conduct complaint against another legislator, but there hasn't been a formal complaint about this situation. However, she said she is working with House legal counsel to investigate and compare the case to others and look at the consequences in those cases, and will act accordingly. In 2019, Hortman removed Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, from the public safety and judiciary committee after he was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and trespassing and made an "implied threat" to police.
While no legislator has filed a complaint related to Thompson's license or traffic stop, Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, did file one against Thompson on Monday for calling Lucero a racist on the House floor. His complaint claimed the "slanderous outburst" violated the House code of conduct.
Meanwhile, a jury trial began Tuesday over a 2019 clash between Thompson and police, related to an incident when he was trying to visit a family friend in the hospital. Thompson faces a misdemeanor charge of obstructing the legal process after he got in an argument with law enforcement over their treatment of the family and friends of a patient at North Memorial Health Hospital, according to court documents. When approached for comment at the courthouse Tuesday, Thompson, who was on the phone, waved away a Star Tribune reporter.
"He did nothing to obstruct the police officers. He was arguing with them about how they were treating people there," Thompson's attorney Jordan Kushner said, noting that there was "a large group of African American visitors who were concerned about a loved one."
He said Thompson and others at the hospital believe they were deemed "a threat to the security of the hospital" because they were African American. Kushner said Thompson speaks up about what is happening, and while he's not always the most careful about it, he is acting within his rights.
"He encounters a lot of hostility, I think, because he's a working-class Black man … who doesn't hesitate to speak up against law enforcement abuse," Kushner said.
Staff writers Stephen Montemayor and Alex Chhith contributed to this report.