St. Johns County

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

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — The state has dropped charges against a Guatemalan man who was accused in a St. Johns County deputy’s line of duty death in May.

Vergilio Aguilar Mendez, now 19, will no longer be prosecuted for aggravated manslaughter of an officer or resisting an officer with violence, according to a news release from the office of State Attorney R.J. Larizza.


On May 19, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Michael Kunovich died shortly after fighting on the ground with Aguilar Mendez during an attempt to place him in custody.

St. Johns County Sergeant Michael Kunovich

According to his arrest report, Aguilar-Mendez later told deputies that he was resisting “due to a fear of being deported.” He also “admitted he understood the verbal commands he was given, but chose not to comply in an attempt to escape,” the report said.

Bryan Shorstein, Executive Director and PIO for Larizza’s office, released a statement Friday, citing concerns about Aguilar Mendez’s “intellectual capacity” as one of the reasons the charges are being dropped:

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.

—  Bryan Shorstein

RELATED: Man now charged with manslaughter in St. Johns Sgt.’s death, competence to stand trial in question

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office released a statement saying though state charges against Aguilar Mendez have been dropped, he will remain in federal custody due to his immigration status:

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.

—  St. Johns County Sheriff's Office

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SJSO also released a statement from Sheriff Rob Hardwick, saying he stood behind Kunovich’s actions that night:

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.

—  Sheriff Rob Hardwick

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Action News Jax told you in February that a federal civil rights lawsuit had been filed on Aguilar Mendez’s behalf.

The lawsuit against the county and two deputies says the sheriff’s office discriminated against him because of the disability and they denied him access to language translation services, saying they should have, according to their own policy.

The lawsuit also says after the arrest, the sheriff’s office didn’t give him an interpreter before an interrogation.

Action News Jax also told you last month that the results from Kunovich’s autopsy report revealed that he may have had a heart attack before the struggle with Aguilar Mendez.

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