He Was Elected After Philando Castile’s Death. Now He’s Being Accused of Domestic Violence.

John Thompson was elected to the Minnesota Legislature with the promise to reform policing after the killing of his best friend, Philando Castile.
July 19, 2021, 8:26pm
John Thompson speaks before a march in remembrance of the victims that were injured in Charlottesville, in front of the Minneapolis Republican Party office in Minneapolis, Monday, Aug. 14, 2017.

Activist John Thompson was elected to the Minnesota Legislature last year in a landslide, with a promise to reform policing after the killing of Philando Castile. Now he’s being asked to step down after he allegedly choked, punched, and verbally abused at least three women over a decade ago.

House Republicans and Democrats are calling for Rep. Thompson, a Democrat, to resign after Fox 9 reported the elected official allegedly abused several women from his past, according to recently discovered police reports.

"I’ll choke you until you can’t breathe anymore," he allegedly told one woman during a particularly chaotic dispute in 2004, according to the police report.

“I’ll choke you until your voice box stops,” he told the mother of his kids in 2010, according to another police report filed at the time of the incident. 

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He allegedly committed the acts he’s accused of in front of children on more than one occasion, according to police at the time. 

The incidents came to public attention after he was stopped by police on July 4 for driving without a front license plate. During the stop, Thompson presented the officer with a Wisconsin driver’s license. In Minnesota, new residents must apply for a state license within two months of becoming a resident, which brought up questions of Thompson’s residency in the state he represents. He later explained that he simply never bothered to get a Minnesota license, despite moving to the state 18 years ago.

Police bodycam footage of the traffic stop has since been released.

The traffic stop led to the news story by Fox 9, whose investigation into Thompson’s residency uncovered several instances of him being accused of domestic violence. The incidents took place between 2003 and 2011.

The first of these incidents occurred in October 2003 in a Superior, Wisconsin, supermarket parking lot, according to the outlet. Thompson allegedly hit his girlfriend with an open and closed fist in front of her 5-year-old daughter. He fled from police but was eventually arrested. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the incident.

In August 2004, Thompson was involved with another dispute that involved him allegedly slapping and choking the same girlfriend in front of his two sons and the woman’s daughter as she called for police. This is when he allegedly told the woman, "I’ll choke you until you can’t breathe anymore," according to the report by the Eagan Police Department. When the woman fled to a neighbor, Thompson allegedly dragged her back into the home, punched her in the face, and slammed her through a kitchen table.

The woman and her daughter were taken to a domestic abuse shelter as a result of the incident and the case was passed to the Dakota County Attorney to review. It is unclear if the county attorney pressed any charges.

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In September 2009, Thompson was involved in a dispute between two women in St. Paul about a cellphone he’d received from another woman. He allegedly exposed himself to the woman while two children were present, and told the women, “I’m the man, you can all suck my dick.” He then exchanged punches with one of the women. He was arrested for domestic assault. The Ramsey County attorney decided not to file charges in the incident.

In March 2010, Thompson was accused of exposing himself to the mother of his children and then-girlfriend of 11 years and strangling her. He allegedly told her, “I’ll choke you until your voice box stops,” as he choked her after a tense argument, according to the police report. He was arrested for domestic assault, according to the St. Paul police report. The county attorney decided not to file charges in this incident as well.

Finally in May 2011, Thompson was once again arrested for domestic assault against the same woman from the 2010 incident. During this altercation, Thompson tried several times to choke her, according to a police report, but failed to do so. It’s unclear if he was charged in this incident.

House Republicans told the Minnesota Star Tribune that they’d be ready to vote for his removal if he doesn’t resign on his own by Monday. Some state Democrats have also denounced the freshman legislator, saying that the new discoveries have hindered conversations about police reform.

"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," state House Speaker Rep. Melissa Hortman said in a statement.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz also called for his resignation Saturday.

“Minnesotans deserve representatives who uphold the highest moral character and share our values,” Walz tweeted. “Following the deeply disturbing reports of domestic violence against multiple women, Rep. Thompson can no longer effectively be that leader.”

Thompson’s attorney, Jordan Kushner, released a statement about the incidents on Facebook implying that the details of these incidents were fabricated as part of a smear campaign. 

“Mr. Thompson challenges the authenticity of the police reports that have been circulated to the press. Mr. Thompson and his wife—the only person whom Mr. Thompson would have been with at the times of the incidents - categorically deny that any of the inflammatory allegations (including but not limited to choking anyone or exposing himself) ever occurred.”

“If these police reports existed in their current form, it is unfathomable that the many people digging into Mr. Thompson's past would not have found those police reports before the November election much less during the ensuing months.”

Both a staffer for the elected official and his wife also said that Thompson has no plans to step down.

“John Thompson was elected in November to do the will of the people, and as a legislator that’s what he has gotten right to work and done,” former campaign manager Jamar Nelson said in a press release. "These latest malicious accusations are an attempted political distraction orchestrated by both parties and an amplified showing of systematic racism and has no bearing and he's doing the people's work."

Five years ago, Thompson, then an activist, made a promise to become a Minnesota state representative to his now-deceased mother in an effort to help create real change in policing. He made the vow to honor his best friend, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old Black man who was killed by police during a traffic stop. Castile was shot five times as he reached for his license and registration after informing the officer that he was legally carrying a firearm at the time. The officer was acquitted of manslaughter the following year.

The multiple incidents in the 2000s aren’t the only legal troubles plaguing Thompson, who was already facing misdemeanor charges of obstructing the legal process for arguing with a member of law enforcement over the treatment of his friends at a local hospital in 2019, according to the Star Tribune. That same year, Thompson had his driving privileges revoked in Minnesota in relation to a Ramsey County child-support case.