Embattled Rep. John Thompson defends conduct in traffic stop

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota lawmaker who’s been a longtime critic of police on Tuesday defended his conduct during a traffic stop for his adult daughter that turned into a verbal confrontation between him and officers.

Police said that Rep. John Thompson, of St. Paul, arrived in another vehicle Sunday after they pulled over his daughter for expired license tabs and for swerving out of her lane.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said in a Facebook post on Monday that Thompson "jumped out and immediately began interfering by yelling and questioning the traffic stop and identifying himself" as a state legislator.

The chief accused the lawmaker of attempting "to intimidate and bully police officers" who were just doing their jobs. He said it was "an absolute shame" that his offices had to "endure illegitimate claims of racism, that John Thompson is still serving in the Legislature."

In a statement Tuesday, Thompson, who is Black and has accused police before of racially profiling drivers, including himself, denied misusing his position and had some praise for police.

"As an elected official I certainly would not attempt to misuse, intimidate or bully police officers with my official position," Thompson said. "I responded as any concerned father would, arriving at a chaotic scene to help deal with my frightened daughter, who was having a verifiable mental health episode."

Thompson said the episode was triggered by the "large presence" of St. Paul police. But he also said the officers on the scene treated him "with the utmost respect" and did an "exemplary job" of deescalating the situation.

House Democrats expelled Thompson from their caucus last fall amid old domestic abuse accusations and questions about whether he really lived in his east side district. Those allegations, which he denied, surfaced after Thompson accused a St. Paul officer of racially profiling him during a traffic stop in which he was ticketed for driving on a suspended Wisconsin license.

Thompson rejected calls at the time from top Democrats, including Gov. Tim Walz, that he resign, and remained in office as an independent. He lost a bid in March for the Democratic endorsement in his district to former Liz Lee, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and then-U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, but has said he is running for reelection anyway.

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, including a bill to speed up the release of police body camera videos.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association urged Thompson to allow police to release body camera video of the Sunday’s incident, which requires his consent under current state law.

Brian Peters, the association’s executive director, said in a letter to Thompson on Tuesday that authorizing the release would corroborate his explanation for what happened.

"Another benefit would be to highlight the effectiveness of St. Paul’s police officers in de-escalation in a mental health situation, as you also noted in your statement," Peters wrote.

Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, declined to comment Tuesday on whether the incident warrants an ethics investigation. She told reporters that would be up to the House Ethics Committee, but that she hadn’t heard of anyone planning to file a complaint.

Associated Press reporter Mohamed Ibrahim contributed to this story. Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.