Their names are still enshrined at their alma mater as Baton of Honor winners.
The faculty at Minnesota State University, Mankato’s law enforcement program chose Jeronimo Yanez and Joseph Kauser from about 500 students as the best in their class — an award given to promising future cops for their smarts, respect and leadership qualities.
The longtime classmates and friends-turned-colleagues graduated together in 2010. Two years later, both wore the gun and badge for the St. Anthony Police Department — their first jobs in law enforcement.
They were on duty together Wednesday evening when they pulled over Philando Castile, his passenger, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter in a traffic stop. The encounter would spark grief and outrage across the world after Yanez shot Castile four times as he sat in the driver’s seat — the aftermath broadcast on Facebook by Reynolds.
The officers, whose names were released Thursday by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), remain on paid administrative leave while the shooting is under investigation. Neither officer could be reached by telephone or in person. But Yanez’s attorney, Thomas Kelly, said his client is cooperating with the investigation and remains distraught by the shooting.
“He’s very upset about this terrible tragedy,” Kelly said Friday. “He’s very saddened about the loss to Philando’s family and recognizes the tragedy of the whole event.”
Kelly wouldn’t discuss details about the night Castile was shot, only saying Yanez reacted to the actions of the driver. He added that Yanez has not been subject to disciplinary actions during his time with the St. Anthony police department.
He described Yanez, 28, as a kind man who gives generously of his time to the St. Anthony community. He said Yanez is Latino and described his participation in activities such as Cinco de Mayo parades.
Police officers are now on watch at Yanez’s home.
“This has all been very impactful on his life,” he said.
According to the BCA, Yanez approached Castile’s vehicle from the driver’s side; Kauser, 31, approached from the passenger side.
In a live Facebook video, Reynolds described what happened next: “He [Castile] told him he was licensed to carry and that he had his gun on him and then he started shooting. He started shooting for no reason.”
“I told him not to reach for it, I told him to get his hand off it!” a clearly panicked Yanez screams, only his arm and hand visible as he keeps the gun trained on a dying Castile.
“You told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license,” Reynolds replied.
Yanez, still pointing the gun, said nothing.
Castile died as a result of the gunshot wounds.
Yanez and Kauser, two of the best students in their class, their lives tied together since college, now face national scrutiny.
Long before the shooting, they were expected to shine in their profession. Side-by-side photos in a 2010 newsletter show Yanez and Kauser grinning in their graduation robes next to their instructor, a red, white and blue cord around their necks signifying the Baton of Honor.
To Paige Burke, a classmate and fellow Baton of Honor winner, both Yanez and Kauser were model students and “leaders of their class.” She remembers them excelling in the classroom, attending all of the extracurricular training, and being the first whom professors would seek out with any leadership opportunities.
The former chairman of the department, Jeff Bumgarner, remembers the same things when he taught the two.
“They reflected and embodied what we looked for,” he said.
He particularly remembers Yanez as someone who didn’t come from privilege, “a very nice, a sensible guy who got into law enforcement for the right reasons.”
“He was very interested in serving the community,” he said.
The two went through courses like Tactical Communication — in which officers learn what to do during a traffic stop. The protocol varies from department to department on how to approach drivers holding a permit to carry a firearm.
Under state law, drivers are not obligated to tell an officer they are armed unless asked. But, “Never let them actually grab [the gun] to show it,” said their instructor, Christian Dobratz.
In 2011, the mayor of St. Anthony swore Yanez in at the department. Kauser followed in 2013. In annual reports the department hailed Yanez for meeting with community members to teach bike safety, giving a tour to Cub Scouts and annually standing guard at the Law Enforcement Memorial Monument in front of the State Capitol.
Yanez lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and child. Both are members of a Catholic church. Neither officer has faced any lawsuits, court records show. Kauser does not appear to have received any citations. Yanez has received two, both in 2014, for violating snow emergency parking restrictions and for what appears to be missing license plates or tabs.
The city of St. Anthony is in the process of providing public data about their personnel records, its attorney told the Star Tribune.
What’s clear is that the two have never been involved in a confrontation like the one Wednesday night. The department’s interim chief said Wednesday night that there hadn’t been an officer-involved shooting in the department for 30 years.
Staff writers Andy Mannix and Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report.