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Charges dropped against man accused of causing the death of St. Johns County Sheriff Sergeant

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Charges have been dropped against a man who had been accused of causing the death of St. Johns County Sheriff Sergeant Michael Kunovich in May of last year.

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St. Johns County Sheriff Sergeant Michael Kunovich suffered a heart attack while attempting to apprehend Vergilio Aguilar Mendez.

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Kunovich died shortly after being taken to the hospital.

Mendez, who is accused of being here in the country illegally, was initially charged with murder.

Those charges were later reduced to manslaughter and resisting with violence.

An autopsy report released in February suggested Sergeant Kunovich had a history of heart problems, and deemed his death did not meet the criteria for homicide.

Just one month before the release of that report, a judge ruled Mendez was incompetent to stand trial.

ORIGINAL STORY: State drops charges against Guatemalan man accused in St. Johns deputy’s line of duty death

After eight months in custody, all state-level charges against Mendez were officially dropped Friday.

In a statement, the state attorney’s office cited questions raised by expert testimony related to Mendez’s ability to comprehend English, his cultural background and his intellectual capacity.

“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,” said Bryan Shorstein, Public Information Officer for the 7th Circuit State Attorney’s Office.

“Looking at the facts of this case, I never really doubted that we would find ourselves in a situation like this, where the case is ultimately dropped,” said Jose Baez, Mendez’s attorney in an exclusive interview with Action News Jax.

Baez argued despite the reasons given by the State Attorney’s Office for the dismissal of the charges, it was the facts of the case that were at issue.

“That’s the stupid kind of things you say when you have blood on your face,” said Baez.

St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick released a statement standing by the actions of Sergeant Kunovich.

“Sergeant Kunovich died a hero protecting the citizens of St. Johns County and there is nothing more noble than that,” said Hardwick.

Baez said the eight-month ordeal has been a nightmare for Mendez and his family.

Baez told Action News Jax Mendez’s father broke down after hearing the charges against his son had been dropped.

“He began to break down and cry and he just wants to see his son again and his son just wants to see him,” said Baez.

Baez also claimed his client was a victim of discrimination.

“The boy was talking to his mother on the phone and eating his dinner. In what state that’s against the law, I still have yet to discover,” said Baez.

Baez argued the Sheriff’s Office weaponized his client’s immigration status to pursue flimsy charges.

“His status in this country never came up as a topic between the responding officers and this boy. So, why are they throwing his immigration status out there? It’s to get you to discriminate against him,” said Baez.

The case drew commentary from high-level public officials, including the Governor, who claimed on social media last year Sergeant Kunovich, “Was killed in the line of duty by an illegal immigrant who took advantage of our open border”.

In a statement released Friday, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department stated despite state-level charges being dropped, Mendez would remain in federal custody pending deportation proceedings.

Baez on the other hand claimed Mendez will likely be released early next week, and his immigration status hearings will go on as planned, just as they were intended to prior to his arrest last May.

It’s an arrest Baez argues occurred due to racial discrimination and an eight month detention he argues was perpetuated by false narratives amplified by the Sheriff.

“And I don’t understand why this man just can’t simply stand up and say, you know what, I was wrong. And that’s a problem for a public official,” said Baez.

Action News Jax contacted the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and asked for a response to some of Baez’s claims and allegations.

We have not heard back yet, though in its statement on charges against Mendez being dropped, the agency doubled down on its version of events.

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“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,” said the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department.

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