MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An outspoken Black Minnesota lawmaker accused a St. Paul police officer of racially profiling him during a traffic stop in which he was ticketed for driving on a suspended Wisconsin license, body camera video released Tuesday shows.
The police video shows a sergeant stopping Democratic Rep. John Thompson, of St. Paul, in downtown St. Paul early on July 4. Thomson said he was the state representative for the area despite presenting a Wisconsin license.
Questions have lingered since the incident was first reported on late last week over why the first-term lawmaker, who formerly lived in Wisconsin, still had a license there and whether he really lives in his district. Thomson said in a statement Monday night that he has lived in St. Paul for many years and will change to a Minnesota license, acknowledging that he should have done so earlier.
The Department of Public Safety has said that Thompson never held a Minnesota license, and that his driving privileges in Minnesota were suspended over a child support issue that was resolved last week.
The video shows the sergeant running Thomson’s license, then telling him he was stopped for taking off fast from a light and having no front license plate. He said his squad car computer showed that Thompson’s driving privileges had been suspended, and that if the information was wrong he’d have to take it up with the Department of Public Safety.
Thomson denied that he had started too fast from the light.
“I’m too old to run from the police, man,” Thompson can be seen and heard saying. “You profiled me because you looked me dead in the face and I got a ticket for driving while Black. You pulled me over cause you saw a Black face in this car, brother. There’s no way in hell I’m taking off with you behind me.”
The white officer denied profiling Thompson, who didn’t buy it. the video shows. The video starts after the sergeant had already pulled Thompson over and doesn’t show whether the officer had seen whether Thompson was Black.
“I’m saying 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 sarcastically.
Thompson became an activist after his friend, Philando Castile, was killed by a suburban police officer during a traffic stop in 2016. As a legislator, he has campaigned for a ban on pretextual stops for minor offenses and other police accountability measures. In his statement Monday night, he described last week’s incident as yet another pretextual stop of a Black man, of the sort that led to the shooting deaths by police of Castile five years ago and of Daunte Wright in April.
“Pretextual stops have been shown to not only do little to stop serious crimes, but they also disproportionately target nonwhites,” Thompson 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.”
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell has demanded that Thompson apologize to the sergeant for accusing him of profiling.
Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, said in a statement Tuesday that no lawmakers filed an ethics complaint against Thompson so far, but that she would “work with counsel to thoroughly investigate the law and facts, compare the alleged misconduct to prior allegations of wrongdoing by members of the Minnesota House and the resultant consequences, and act accordingly.”
Thompson did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press on Tuesday. But in his statement Monday night, he said he supported releasing the video and hopes the incident fosters conversations that lead to change.
“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. Too many Minnesotans are dealing with barriers like this without a respectable title in front of their name.”