MINNEAPOLIS — A Black Minnesota state lawmaker who rose to prominence after the fatal shooting of his friend Philando Castile came under increasing pressure to resign Monday, after old domestic abuse allegations surfaced as he was already dealing with fallout over an acrimonious traffic stop.
Legislative Republicans threatened to file an ethics complaint against John Thompson, who became an outspoken activist on police accountability and later turned to politics after Castile was shot to death by a police officer in 2016.
Thompson used his position to argue for policing changes that would shield people of color from unfair treatment. But the domestic abuse allegations, first reported by KMSP-TV on Friday, were the last straw for top Democrats after a tumultuous couple of weeks.
First, Thompson’s residency in his St. Paul district was called into question after he claimed he had been racially profiled during a traffic stop July 4. Then, he went on trial last week on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing police for his alleged conduct during a confrontation that led to a lockdown at a suburban hospital in 2019, before he ran for office.
By Saturday, top Minnesota Democrats had had enough. State House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler called on Thompson to quit, saying his continued presence was jeopardizing the very causes he championed.
“Representative Thompson ran for office to advance progressive policies, but his recent actions, and unacceptable reports of abuse and misconduct, have become an impediment to that work,” Hortman and Winkler said. Within minutes, several other top Democrats, including Gov. Tim Walz, also called for Thompson to step down.
Thompson has refused to resign and has insisted he lives in his district. His attorney, Jordan Kushner, on Sunday denied the abuse allegations and disputed the authenticity of the police reports cited in news reports. He suggested they were fabricated by police who have despised Thompson since his obscenity-laced speech during a demonstration last August outside the home in suburban Hugo of Lt. Bob Kroll, who was then head of the Minneapolis police union. Thompson, noting the violence after last summer’s death of George Floyd, talked of “burning Hugo down” and struck at piñatas depicting Kroll and his wife, a WCCO-TV anchor.
Kushner called the police reports “a product of the campaign to silence an American African man who speaks out against powerful and abusive interests, and not the product of any effort to uncover truth.”
On Monday, the top Republican in the Minnesota House, Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, called on Hortman to explain by Wednesday what she intends to do about Thompson. If Hortman fails to act, he said, House Republicans will move ahead with ethics complaints.
That panel, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans with one alternate from each party, was already scheduled to meet Friday to consider a different ethics complaint against Thompson. GOP state Rep. Eric Lucero filed it late last month after Thompson, during a contentious floor debate over policing legislation, denounced Lucero by saying, “I know you’re a racist.” GOP lawmakers allege in the complaint that Thompson’s conduct violated House rules on decorum.
Thompson’s unraveling might not have happened if it weren’t for his own statements during a memorial July 6 on the fifth anniversary of Castile’s death. At the memorial, Thompson disclosed that St. Paul police had pulled him over for a missing front license plate — what he called a “pretextual stop” of the kind he fought to end as a legislator.
“I’m still being profiled. … You can still get driving-while-Black tickets in the state,” Thompson said.
It soon emerged that Thompson was driving on a Wisconsin license and had never had one from Minnesota, which he was legally required to have to drive if he was a Minnesota resident. Thompson has yet to provide public proof that he lives in his St. Paul district.
Amid the furor over the traffic stop, Thompson’s trial last week began on the misdemeanor obstruction charge that predated his election campaign and previously attracted little attention. He’s accused of interfering with a police officer at a suburban hospital in 2019 as a crowd gathered following a family friend’s suicide attempt. Thompson alleged that police and hospital staff overreacted because the people in the crowd were Black.
Then on Friday, KMSP-TV reported on four cases involving domestic abuse allegations involving Thompson between 2003 and 2010. In a 2003 incident in Superior, Wisconsin, Thompson was accused of striking his girlfriend in the face in a supermarket parking lot in front of her 5-year-old daughter. He eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges of disorderly conduct and fleeing police. In 2004, he allegedly attacked the same woman at her suburban St. Paul apartment.
Prosecutors declined to file charges in that incident or two others, in St. Paul in 2009 and 2010, in which he allegedly made threats during arguments with women and took out his penis in front of them and children who were present. Through Kushner, Thompson denied all of the abuse allegations.
Democratic state Rep. Cedrick Frazier, an African American freshman who emerged this year as a leading voice in the House on police accountability, deflected a question on whether Thompson could politically survive the allegations and the loss of Democratic support, saying it’s up to Hortman, the House speaker.
But Frazier said Thompson deserves due process via the ethics committee and from voters. He said the Legislature needs citizen lawmakers who bring a variety of life experiences that can guide policy and help improve people’s lives.
“None of us come to this job as perfect, as not having any type of blemishes and not having any type of life lived coming into this work,” Frazier said.
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