World News

Attorney for migrant accused in death of SJC deputy speaks after case dismissed

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The case against Vergilio Aguilar-Mendez, an 18-year-old migrant accused of manslaughter in the death of a St. Johns County deputy, has been dismissed.

Defense attorney Jose Baez, who’s representing Vergilio Aguilar-Mendez, will be giving remarks following the State Attorney’s Office’s decision to dismiss the case.

Press play above to watch the attorney’s remarks live

According to the State Attorney’s Office, the decision comes “following recent expert testimony regarding the defendant’s inability to comprehend the English language, his cultural background and concerns about his intellectual capacity have raised significant issues to consider in the case.”

“Furthermore, based on the court’s recent ruling that the defendant is incompetent to proceed based on that expert testimony, dismissal of the charges is appropriate. Arrest and time served is sufficient,” the State Attorney’s Office said in a news release on Friday afternoon.

Aguilar-Mendez was accused of resisting an officer with violence and aggravated manslaughter of an officer after a confrontation with St. Johns County Sergeant Deputy Michael Kunovich in May 2023.

Kunovich died from a heart condition, according to the medical examiner, after he collapsed and was taken to a hospital following a struggle with Aguilar-Mendez. The encounter began when Kunovich tried to search and detain the 18-year-old from Guatemala, a move that the lawyers for Aguilar-Mendez argued was a violation of his Constitutional rights.

MORE | Civil attorney for 18-year-old migrant accused in St. Johns County deputy’s death says client was racially profiled | Body camera video shows language barrier, scuffle between St. Johns County Sgt., man accused in his death

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement following the dismissal of the case:

“The State Attorney’s Office decision to nolle prosequi (dismiss) the case was based on concerns about the intellectual capacity of Vergilio Aguilar Mendez and the recent ruling finding him to be incompetent. Aguilar Mendez was arrested on the 19th of May, 2023 and has been in custody for approximately eight (8) months. Even though Aguilar Mendez will be released on State charges, he will remain in Federal custody due to his immigration status, pending deportation proceedings. Aguilar Mendez is an illegal alien who resisted Sergeant Kunovich’s lawful efforts to detain him and as a result, Sergeant Kunovich tragically suffered a fatal heart attack.”

“There have been attempts by some to portray Aguilar Mendez as a victim and vilify Sergeant Kunovich. I continue to stand behind Sergeant Kunovich’s actions on the night of May 19, 2023. The danger associated with law enforcement is a risk we assume when we enter this profession. Sergeant Kunovich died a hero protecting the citizens of St. Johns County and there is nothing more noble than that. Please continue to hold our agency and Sergeant Kunovich’s family in your thoughts and prayers,” said St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick in a statement.

(The video may be disturbing for some viewers, so discretion is strongly advised. News4JAX is only publishing the first two minutes of the nine-minute video to be transparent, as well as respectful to the families. The video gives an unedited view of what happened leading up to the arrest.)

The body camera video of Aguilar-Mendez’s arrest showed him in front of a closed business talking on the phone to his mother when he was approached by Kunovich. Kunovich tried to search him — it’s unclear why — and then it got physical. Aguilar-Mendez, who doesn’t speak English, was wrestled to the ground and arrested.

Copyright 2024 by WJXT News4JAX – All rights reserved.

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