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St. Paul police chief: State rep tried to ‘bully’ officers at woman’s traffic stop, misused his position

Police Chief Todd Axtell wrote on his Facebook page Monday after he was briefed on the case and reviewed some body camera footage. “It’s a slap in the face to those of us — including our police officers — who are working in good faith to make our city safer for everyone.”

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St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell and State Rep. John Thompson, I-St. Paul.
Courtesy photos
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ST. PAUL -- St. Paul’s police chief says a state representative interfered at a traffic stop of a woman he indicated was his daughter, handed out business cards that identified him as Rep. John Thompson, yelled at officers and noted his elected position several times.

Thompson represents St. Paul’s East Side as an independent after Minnesota House Democrats expelled Thompson from their caucus in September. That came after news stories in July reported Thompson had been accused of being physically violent toward women in the past; he hadn’t been convicted of domestic abuse. He was pulled over by St. Paul police in July for driving without a license and responded he was the victim of racial profiling.

On Sunday afternoon, Thompson also accused St. Paul officers of being racist during a traffic stop when he arrived after police pulled over a 26-year-old who he identified as his daughter, said Steve Linders, a police spokesman, on Monday.

“It’s an absolute shame — that an elected official would attempt to intimidate and bully police officers, that he would misuse his official position, that officers doing their jobs should have to endure illegitimate claims of racism, that John Thompson is still serving in the Legislature,” Police Chief Todd Axtell wrote on his Facebook page Monday after he was briefed on the case and reviewed some body camera footage. “It’s a slap in the face to those of us — including our police officers — who are working in good faith to make our city safer for everyone.”

Thompson could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

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Axtell said he wished state law allowed the police department to release body camera footage, but they can’t at this time, though he noted that Thompson or his daughter could request the video and release it.

“I want to be clear about this: My officers were put in an incredibly difficult position and made the best decision they could at the time to de-escalate and avoid being unfairly vilified — again,” Axtell wrote. “It was an outrageous scene.”

Police: Woman wouldn’t roll down window

On Sunday at 4:36 p.m., an officer working on a state-funded detail focusing on impaired driving enforcement in St. Paul pulled over the driver of a van after seeing it swerve out of its lane on Interstate 35E, Linders said. The officer ran a check on the van’s license plates and discovered the registration expired in April 2020; the van was registered to Thompson, according to police.

The driver exited at Cayuga Street and the officer activated her squad car’s emergency lights, but the van kept going. The officer chirped her squad’s siren to get the attention of the driver, who continued onto Westminster Street. The driver stopped about halfway up the block on Westminster Street.

The officer walked to the driver’s side window, which was down about one inch, and pointed for the driver to roll it down, but she shook her head to indicate she wouldn’t, Linders said. She requested again and the driver did not acknowledge the officer.

“At this point, not knowing what was going on with the driver, the officer requested other squads to the scene,” Linders said. “This is standard procedure and done for the safety of everyone involved in the call.”

The officer who made the traffic stop could smell marijuana coming from the van, Linders said. She asked the driver to turn off the vehicle and put her keys on the dashboard, which she did. Another officer tried to speak with the driver.

“While this was happening, another vehicle approached the scene at a high rate of speed and stopped in front of the van,” Linders said in the statement. “A man got out of the vehicle and began yelling at officers, expressing displeasure with treatment of the van’s driver (who he identified as his daughter) and the number of officers at the traffic stop.”

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Driver released to Thompson

Officers told the driver to exit the van for field sobriety tests, but she would not, according to police. They told her she would be charged with refusing a field sobriety test if she didn’t.

The woman’s driver’s license had been suspended, Linders said. Information about the reason for the suspension wasn’t immediately known.

“Officers at the scene made the decision to allow the van’s driver to go home with her father, deciding to charge her out of custody,” the police statement said. “At this point, the driver got out of the van and went with Thompson.”

Police said they submitted the case to the city attorney’s office for charging consideration. Prosecutors received information about the 26-year-old woman and will review police reports and “evidence associated with the case before making any charging decisions,” according to Jessica McConaughey, deputy city attorney, criminal division.

The police department also plans to submit reports from the case, as they relate to Thompson, to the city attorney’s office, Linders said.

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