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Immigrant gets manslaughter charge dropped after DA finds him incompetent in deputy’s death

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UPDATE: 3/2/2024

According to ActionJax News, the St. Johns County District Attorney has dropped manslaughter charges against an immigrant after he struggled with a sheriff’s deputy resulting in the LEO’s death.

The District Attorney said he decided to drop the charges after he found the suspect, Vergilio Aguilar-Mendez, incompetent to stand trial. He pointed out the language barrier between the accused and Sgt. Michael Kunovich as an additional cause that led to the struggle and subsequent heart attack Sgt. Kunovich suffered.

St. John Sheriff Rob Hardwick said in part, “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…Please continue to hold our agency and Sergeant Kunovich’s family in your thoughts and prayers,”

Aguilar-Mendez may not face state charges but will continue to remain in federal custody as his immigration case finishes out.

Original:

Mark Price
The Charlotte Observer

A North Florida sheriff’s deputy collapsed and died after struggling for more than 6 minutes to take a teen suspect into custody, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

It happened around 9 p.m. on Friday, May 19, west of St. Augustine, and the deputy was identified as Sgt. Michael Kunovich, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

The sheriff’s office has not released a cause of death, but the Officer Down Memorial Page reports the deputy suffered a heart attack.

Vergilio Aguilar-Mendez, 18, faces a murder charge in connection with Kunovich’s death, officials say.

“Kunovich made contact with a suspect he observed sitting in the dark outside a closed business near the 2500 block of (State Road) 16. He attempted a pat down to check for weapons and the suspect pulled away and attempted to flee,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

“Additional deputies arrived and the suspect continued to resist. While fighting on the ground, the subject attempted to grab Sergeant Kunovich’s taser and continued to violently resist for approximately 6 minutes and 19 seconds. After he was handcuffed, the subject armed himself with a pocket knife, which was forcefully removed by deputies.”

“Moments after the suspect was disarmed,” Kunovich showed signs of “medical distress” and collapsed, officials said.

Life-saving measures were attempted by the St. Johns County Fire Rescue and Flagler Health+ emergency medical personnel, but Kunovich was pronounced dead at a hospital, officials said.

He was a father of two and served with the sheriff’s office 25 years, including 5 years on the SWAT Team.

Aguilar-Mendez has been charged with resisting arrest with violence and felony murder, officials said. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has also placed a detainer on him, which is done in cases in which suspects are believed to be “removable non-citizens.” He is being held without bond, jail records show.

St. Augustine is about 40 miles south of Jacksonville.

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