Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty on June 16 in the killing of Philando Castile.
Yanez graduated from MNSU’s law enforcement program in 2010. He was the recipient of the department’s Baton of Honor in 2010, an award given to two students each semester who have respect among their peers and faculty members and possess leadership qualities.
An officer for the St. Anthony Police Department, Yanez pulled over Castile, Diamond Reynolds and their four-year-old daughter during a traffic stop on July 6, 2016 in Falcon Heights, according to police records. After disclosing to Yanez that he was carrying a gun with a permit, Yanez shot and killed the St. Paul native Castile. Yanez testified in court that he believed Castile was reaching for his gun, but Reynolds claims he was reaching for identification.
The case became high profile after Reynolds streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live.
Yanez was charged with second degree manslaughter and following the jury’s decision on June 16, the St. Anthony Police Department terminated him.
In a statement from the university, MNSU Vice President of Student Affairs David Jones said, “Many strong and varying emotions have been expressed at the conclusion of the Yanez trial. For those on the Minnesota State University, Mankato campus seeking assistance, the university offers counseling services and other professional resources through campus offices such as Institutional Diversity, Student Affairs and Human Resources.”
Yanez being acquitted didn’t come as a surprise for MNSU Black Student Union (BSU) President Rosalin Cobb. The marketing student and St. Paul native had family that went to the same school where Castile worked as a cafeteria supervisor.
“His death just hit so close to home. When I found out Friday that Officer Yanez was acquitted, I felt cold and empty,” she said.
Cobb has been in contact with members of recognized student organizations Black Intelligent Gentlemen (BIG) and Black Motivated Women (BMW) about organizing events centered around educating and creating conversation in the community and the campus.
“I plan to get myself and some of my group members involved in community events that are seeking to raise awareness as well,” BMW President Latisha Townsend said.
Unlike Cobb, Townsend was surprised by the acquittal.
“I felt for the first time, we might get some justice,” she said. “We watched it all happen right in front of us. We saw an innocent man sitting in his car not bothering anyone. He was wearing a seat belt and made no threatening moves toward the cop and even warned him that he had a weapon on him, but had no intention of reaching for it.”
Hundreds protested and rallied in the Twin Cities over the weekend in response to the acquittal and caused numerous traffic jams. The Castile case is one of many cases of police violence that fuel such efforts like Black Lives Matter (BLM).
“We can only hope that this will push BLM to work harder for justice in a peaceful manner,” Townsend said. “It’s important that we don’t use anger or violence to be heard.”
Since the acquittal, the NAACP has called for Yanez to be taken to federal court for his charges. Governor Mark Dayton has made similar comments and has stated that he believes race played a factor in the shooting.
“Even though Yanez was terminated, I feel that still isn’t enough. No justice was served,” Cobb said. “I just wake up every day hoping that my brother isn’t the next victim.”