The City of St. Paul released police body cam footage Tuesday taken during the July 4 traffic stop of state Rep. John Thompson.
Thompson (DFL-St. Paul) was pulled over by a St. Paul police officer around 1:18 a.m. that day, with the officer citing a missing front license plate as the reason for the stop. But Thompson argued the stop was an example of racial profiling.
On Monday, following a public rebuke from the state's DFL chair and disagreement from St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell, Thompson called for the body cam footage to be released.
Tuesday afternoon, the city acquiesced, with a spokesperson saying Axtell made the decision in light of the "circumstances surrounding the incident," and after consulting with the city attorney. Watch the video below:
Most of the 16-minute video is taken up by the officer who initiated the traffic stop sitting in the squad car, holding Thompson's driver's license and typing into a computer terminal with a digitally blurred screen. Brief moments at the beginning and end provide some insight into the stop, however.
During the initial 30 seconds — silent, due to the body camera buffering, a city spokesperson said — the officer gets out of the car, approaches Thompson's vehicle with a flashlight, and begins speaking to him.
When the audio begins, the officer asks Thompson, "Why in such a hurry?"
Thompson replies: "I don't think I took off like a bat out of hell, I just drove off."
The officer asks for proof of insurance, and Thompson notes it's on his phone and says he is a state representative in the district. The officer questions his Wisconsin license, which Thompson affirms, then goes back to his squad car where he remains for about 14 minutes.
After printing off a citation, he exits the squad car and approaches Thompson's vehicle, apologizing for it taking so long.
"You're suspended in Minnesota," the officer says.
Thompsons shakes his head no, and the officer continues: "That's what the computer says. If it's wrong, you'll have to deal with DVS [the Department of Vehicle Services]."
Thompson then asks why the officer pulled him over, to which he responds, "No front plate, and the way you took off from the light back there."
"I'm too old to run from the police man," Thompson says. "You profiled me because you looked me dead in the face 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 then interrupts to say the incident is on camera, before Thompson continues.
"I know. But what I'm saying is, what you're doing is wrong, to Black men," he says. "And you need to stop that. Thank you so much but this ticket means nothing to me ... What I'm saying to you is stop racially profiling Black men in their cars sir. Stop doing that."
When the officer contends there was no racial profiling involved, Thompson disagrees and continues to claim he was profiled. The officer says good night as he walks away, and the video ends.
In a statement Monday, Thompson had argued the criminal justice system's use of pretextual stops is a core issue.
“I was able to drive away from this interaction while other Black Minnesotans, in very similar situations, have not," Thompson said.
What the video doesn't show
The video released by the City of St. Paul doesn't capture everything.
The silent first 30 seconds means the initial words spoken by the officer and Thompson cannot be heard. In addition, there is the blurred computer terminal.
A city spokesperson told Bring Me The News the officer ran through a "standard" set of actions for traffic stops, noting he checked Thompson's driving record in Minnesota and Wisconsin, ran the vehicle's plates, checked for warrants, and ran Thompson's name through the system because he lacked a Minnesota license.
A "technical glitch" also slowed things down.
And the footage does not include the lead-up to the traffic stop — a main point of contention from Thompson. The representative said in his Monday statement he was ticketed for driving with a suspended license, but not for the lack of a front license plate (which, along with "the way [Thompson] took off," was the officer's reason for pulling him over.
A St. Paul spokesperson said in-car camera footage, and any other video associated with the stop, "will be public" once the case is through the courts.
The Wisconsin license
Thompson, in his statement, said he used to live in Wisconsin and has considered moving back there, so continued to use a driver's license from that state despite living and working in St. Paul. He also acknowledged his driving privileges were suspended in 2019 after a missed child support payment.
But the discrepancy has sparked questions about his residency, and whether he is actually eligible to represent District 67A since representatives, by law, must live in the district they represent. Thompson's legislative bio includes a St. Paul PO box.
Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) sent a letter to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon Tuesday, asking about the process used to verify his residency when he filed to run for office. She asked about document requests and tools his office utilized.
Simon, in a response that afternoon, noted that the Secretary of State's office has no "investigative or law enforcement powers," nor the manpower to "independently verify" the address of every candidate for office.
Instead, Simon said, the law requires candidates to provide their address as part of an "affidavit of candidacy" under penalty of perjury. Knowingly lying on this affidavit is a crime, Simon said.
A registered voter can submit a written request to have the Secretary of State's office determine whether an address provided in an affidavit is within the district they would represent, Simon writes. In the case of Thompson, his office never received any of these requests, he adds.
Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) in a statement Tuesday afternoon said that, while House members can make a formal ethics complaint, none have been filed regarding this incident with Rep. Thompson so far.
"As in other instances of alleged member misconduct, in the absence of a formal ethics complaint, in my role as Speaker I will 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," she added.