Who is Nico Rios?
Nico Rios is a Republican state representative from Williston, North Dakota. He was elected in 2022 and serves on the House Judiciary Committee, which handles law enforcement legislation. He is also a wireline operator, an oil field position involved in the hydraulic fracturing of wells.
What did he do?
On December 15, 2023, Rios was pulled over by Williston police for failing to maintain his lane. He was arrested for driving under the influence and refusing to provide a chemical test, both misdemeanors under state law.
During the traffic stop, Rios was verbally abusive, homophobic, racially abusive and discriminatory toward the arresting officer, according to the officer’s report. He used profanity and slurs to insult the officer’s sexual orientation, ethnicity, and immigration status. He also threatened to call the North Dakota attorney general and said the officers would regret picking on him because they did not know who he was.
The officer’s body camera footage captured Rios’ rant and was requested by and provided to several media outlets, including The Associated Press and HuffPost.
How did he react?
Rios issued a statement on December 18, 2023, apologizing for his actions and words. He said he was inebriated and that his behavior was unacceptable. He vowed to never let it happen again and expressed his commitment to supporting law enforcement. He said he was leaving a Christmas party before the traffic stop and that he had received support from his colleagues, although some had yelled at him.
How did others respond?
Rios’ remarks sparked outrage and condemnation from various groups and individuals, including his own party leaders, LGBTQ+ advocates, and immigrant rights organizations.
- Republican House Majority Leader Mike Lefor called for Rios’ resignation on December 26, 2023, saying he had heard enough about the video and that Rios had violated the trust of his constituents and colleagues.
- Democratic House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, who is openly gay, said Rios’ comments were hateful and unacceptable and that he should be removed from the Judiciary Committee and any other committees that deal with human rights issues.
- The North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, a group that promotes diversity and inclusion, said Rios’ remarks were dehumanizing and dangerous and that he should step down immediately.
- The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, a civil rights organization, said Rios’ remarks were offensive and unconstitutional and that he should apologize to the officer and the communities he targeted.
What happens next?
Rios is scheduled for a pretrial conference on February 5, 2024, in municipal court. He faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine for each charge.
He has not indicated whether he will resign or continue to serve in the legislature. He is up for reelection in 2024.