Involvement in fatal shooting takes toll, says Officer of the Year

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Sgt. Maksim Yakovlev is the Burnsville Police Department’s 2016 Officer of the Year. (Photo by John Gessner)

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A year ago the Burnsville Police Department “lost our innocence,” in the words of patrol Sgt. Maksim Yakovlev.

He was responsible for six of the 23 shots fired the morning of March 17, 2016, at a knife-wielding man who bolted from his car at the West Highway 13 McDonald’s and ran toward traffic. A McDonald’s employee told police the driver appeared to be “tweaking” when he pulled into the drive-thru at 2:30 a.m.

He was still behaving erratically four hours later when repeated police orders to drop the large, dagger-style knife and two Taser rounds fired through a car window broken by police failed to calm the man.

Yakovlev was one of three cops who shot and killed Map Kong as he fled. The 38-year-old Chaska main sustained 15 gunshot wounds.

Yakovlev won’t discuss details of the incident, now the subject of a civil lawsuit after the Dakota County grand jury found last June that the officers were legally justified in using deadly force.

But Yakovlev — named last month as Burnsville’s 2016 Officer of the Year — is candid about the personal toll that lingers a year later.

“It kind of goes in spurts almost,” said Yakovlev, who joined the department as a cadet in 1999, the year he graduated from Eagan High School. “Some days it feels really good to be back, some days it feels not so good. It’s definitely an adjustment. It helps to have a good support network here.”

A state-certified master instructor, Yakovlev teaches police tactics and use of force at Rasmussen College in Eagan and through a private training company called Mission Critical Concepts.

He and the other shooters in the Kong case, officers Taylor Jacobs and John Mott, had “microseconds,” Yakovlev said, to decide whether the fleeing man and his weapon posed a threat to public safety.

There was public criticism after the incident and after the grand jury cleared the cops, Yakovlev said. Kong’s family is claiming in its suit that the officers failed to request medical assistance for Kong, who was undergoing a mental health crisis (and, according to the Dakota County attorney, had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system).

The cops failed to de-escalate the situation and killed a man who posed no threat, the suit says.

“That’s something to be expected,” Yakovlev said of the criticisms.

But first things first. Yakovlev and his wife, Julie, had to explain the incident to their daughter, now 10, before school the next day. Yakovlev didn’t want her blindsided by social media and comments from schoolmates.

“It was important for us to be honest with her about it and leave it up to her to ask as many questions as she needed,” said Yakovlev, whose wife delivered their second daughter 10 days later. “She did. The ‘whys’ came out, kind of the kid-version of that.”

Returning to work after the incident was “awkward,” the Farmington resident said.

“Your partners don’t know quite know what they can ask you or if they can talk to you because of lawyers involved in the system,” he said. “And then getting back in the squad car, you’re expected to continue to take the calls and respond to community needs as if nothing ever happened, but in your roll out of the parking lot, you’re kind of a little more on edge, (wondering) how your day is going to go. It could happen again.”

Department administrators did a “phenomenal job” of helping the officers debrief and giving them space and privacy to cope, Yakovlev said.

“They continue to do that to this day,” he said.

A martial arts enthusiast since childhood, Yakovlev has a four-year degree from Metro State University and earned a master’s in police leadership from Concordia University in St. Paul.

Over his 17 years in Burnsville he has worked as a community service officer, patrol officer, use-of-force instructor, SWAT team member, field training officer and investigator. He was promoted to patrol sergeant in 2012.

“I like the critical-thinking piece of the job and the tactical side of things,” Yakovlev said. “Teaching is one of my passions.”

He teaches defensive tactics and does scenario-based training in Rasmussen’s police program. Teaching has the added perk of exposing Yakovlev, 36, to young talent. He tries to recruit the best and brightest to apply in Burnsville.

“I have quite a few of my students that are career officers in the area,” Yakovlev said.

And they’re needed, he said, especially after the July 2016 ambush that killed five police officers and injured nine others in Dallas.

“There’s not a lot of people going into this job, especially after the Dallas shootings,” Yakovlev said. “At Rasmussen, we had parents pulling kids out of school because they didn’t want them to go into the profession anymore. We do need good people.”