MINNEAPOLIS — Testimony is set to begin Friday in the obstruction trial of Rep. John Thompson in Hennepin County District Court. The St. Paul Democrat faces a misdemeanor charge in connection with an incident at North Memorial Hospital in 2019, a year before he was elected to the state legislature.
Jury selection has taken up much of the first two days of the trial, as opposing attorneys engage in voir dire, the slow, deliberate process of questioning jurors one at a time in an effort to detect possible biases. The questioning went deep into issues of race, policing, George Floyd and Daunte Wright because Thompson asserts that he was targeted for arrest because he's an outspoken Black man.
"My client’s going to court because he’s innocent of the charge. Worse than that, he’s being persecuted because he’s outspoken where he sees racism, and that’s why he’s being prosecuted in this case," Jordan Kushner, Thompson's defense attorney, told KARE.
"Especially because he accused the police and the hospital security and hospital staff of treating Black people differently and in a racist manner."
The charge stems from an episode at North Memorial Hospital on Nov. 21, 2019. Thompson, a machinist, former union leader and political activist was one of dozens of people who rushed to emergency room after hearing a friend had reportedly attempted suicide.
North Memorial security called for reinforcements, telling the Robbinsdale Police Department that people were trying to enter parts of the emergency department that are off-limits to visitors. The hospital went into lockdown mode, while officers from several agencies converged.
Thompson was arrested after verbally sparring with officers, telling them they were overreacting and making the situation worse. Officers accused Thompson of trying to resist arrest when they first tried to place handcuffs on him. Kushner has said he was just stunned because they were hurting his arm by suddenly twisting it behind his back.
Thompson's been an outspoken critic of police since his friend Philando Castile was killed in a 2016 traffic stop in Falcon Heights. He has called out the law enforcement community for over policing Black men and uneven enforcement of marijuana laws.
"Mr. Thompson is outspoken. He calls things as he sees them and most people don’t do that," Kushner explained.
Each prospective juror was questioned by Judge Michael K. Browne, Kushner and Derek Archambault, the private attorney acting as the city prosecutor for the City of Robbinsdale where the hospital is located.
At the end of Thursday's court session six jurors had been selected. Six jurors and one alternate are required in a misdemeanor case. The prosecution and defense each used their powers to preemptively strike jurors they believed couldn't remain neutral.
Simple misdemeanors carry a sentence of 0 to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Prior acts aren't taken into consideration for misdemeanor sentences.
Rep. Thompson has been in the news this week because he accused a St. Paul police sergeant of profiling him in a traffic stop July 4. When reporters called to check on the story police revealed that Thompson only has a Wisconsin driver's license, despite living in Minnesota many years.
That prompted critics to call for an investigation into his residency. The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association asked the Wisconsin Attorney General to consider perjury charges against Thompson for signing a form attesting that the Wisconsin address he gave was correct.
Thompson issued a statement Monday night saying he’s taking care of those license issues. So far, he hasn’t agreed to any interviews with reporters.
The MPPOA last year pressured Gov. Walz and House Speaker Melissa Hortman to rescind their endorsements of Thompson because of inflammatory statements he made during a protest in Hugo in 2020. The demonstration took place after Floyd's death and targeted the neighborhood of Lt. Bob Kroll, the head of the Minneapolis Police Federation.
Walz and Hortman didn’t take back their endorsements. Thompson still won his election by a landslide in a heavily Democrat district.