Opportunity lost?

Yesterday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations came out with a statement calling for Governor Walz to appoint an independent investigator to provide answers regarding law enforcement’s role leading up to the tragic car crash that resulted in the deaths of five young Somali women. 

The direction taken by CAIR represents a lost opportunity to focus attention on the woeful job our criminal justice system has done to hold offenders accountable.

Case History

On Friday evening June 16, Derrick Thompson rented a Cadillac Escalade from the Minneapolis airport, loaded it up with thousands of dollars in Fentanyl, other narcotics, and a firearm, and set out at 95 MPH up 35W in south Minneapolis. Just 24 minutes after signing the rental contract, he exited at 31st St., blew through a red light at Lake St., and slammed into a car occupied by five young Somali women. 

The women died at the scene and Thompson fled on foot. He was arrested a short distance away at a Taco Bell where he sat, bloodied and with a broken hip. He was bothered by officers who detained him for a “show up” by witnesses, asking the officers how long it would take, because he had things to do.

The criminal justice system, feeling the heat from a weak display of accountability in Thompson’s previous criminal matters, stepped up in force. Thompson is currently held in the Hennepin County Jail on state charges of criminal vehicular homicide and has simultaneous charges in federal court for narcotics and weapon charges, as well as a Minnesota Department of Corrections “Hold” undoubtedly for a violation of conditions from a previous conviction.

What we have learned since the crash is that Thompson has a long history of criminal offenses, including prior weapon, narcotics, and fleeing police arrests. The saddest of revelations is that Thompson was just convicted in 2020 for a similar reckless crash in California where in 2018 he permanently disabled a woman who was on a walking path, and fled that scene on foot again leaving behind drugs and a firearm. Read more about Thompson, and his history here

Thompson received an eight-year sentence for that conviction in 2020, but due to lax correctional policy was let out of prison early. Instead of staying in California where he was supposed to remain, work on wildfire suppression, and begin paying restitution to his victim, Thompson returned to Minnesota.

If there is criticism to be had over this deadly crash, it lies squarely at the feet of Thompson and the weak accountability previously placed upon him from courts and correctional authorities in California and Minnesota.

Calls for an “Independent Investigator”

Unfortunately, the Council on American Islamic-Relations (CAIR) came out yesterday to call into question the Minnesota State Patrol’s role in the crash, and to request Governor Walz appoint an “independent investigator” to resolve what they feel is conflicting information about the crash.

The state patrol has been clear, and video from 35W corroborates, that its trooper was stationary at the bus stop at 46th St. and 35W when Thompson flew past at 95 mph. The trooper did not activate lights or siren, but merely began driving in the direction of Thompson’s speeding vehicle in an attempt to catch up. The trooper never got close, and Thompson hardly slowed as he blew through stop lights before impacting the victims’ car.  Thompson’s actions were his, and his alone.

What should the trooper have done? It’s clear that in 2023 it doesn’t matter what decision the police make, they will be blamed or questioned by someone. We can’t have it both ways.  While police pursuits have an element or risk, our risks become far greater when offenders realize the police won’t attempt to stop you if you speed or drive recklessly — look no further than the chaos and lawlessness on our roadways today.

MPPOA Response

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) has responded aptly to CAIR’s focus on the police response to Thompson’s actions:

Opportunity Lost

Most tragedies offer some form of opportunity. This case is no different.

This situation represents the perfect opportunity for the Somali American Police Association (SAPA) to step forward and work with CAIR to understand the role law enforcement played in this case, and to further bridge the gap that exists between some in the Somali community and law enforcement. CAIR’s adversarial and mistrusting stance does not bridge gaps, it widens them.

More importantly, this tragedy represented the perfect opportunity for the Somali community to use its political capital to demand improvements in how our criminal justice system holds offenders accountable, and in how it keeps our collective communities safe.  Instead, through CAIR, worn-out questions and unsupported accusations against law enforcement were once again trotted out in the name of the Somali community. 

Governor Walz would be wise not to appease CAIR, but rather bring the victims’ families, SAPA, and the Minneapolis Police Department together and provide transparency of the information that is known.

Tragedy shouldn’t be exploited, but the opportunities for improvement should be. Ensuring that our criminal justice system improves how it holds offenders accountable and improves our public safety are worthy goals — goals CAIR could achieve if it focused on them.