ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is mourning the death of Sergeant Michael Kunovich following an altercation with a suspect.
Vergilio Aguilar Mendez, 18, is charged with felony murder in connection to the sergeant’s death and there are questions if he was in the country legally. Authorities are looking into the suspect’s background as Homeland Security is involved in the investigation.
“It’s just a tragedy,” Action News Jax Law and Safety expert Dale Carson said.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said the two fought on the ground for about 6 minutes and 19 seconds outside a closed business on State Road 16. At one point, the suspect tried to take Kunovich’s taser as he violently resisted.
The Sheriff’s Office said after he was handcuffed, Mendez managed to arm himself with a pocketknife, which was forcefully removed by deputies. Kunovich collapsed shortly after and “relentless lifesaving measures” were initiated by St. Johns County Fire Rescue and Flagler Health+ personnel, SJSO said. He was ultimately pronounced dead shortly after being taken to Flagler Hospital.
St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick released the following statement:
“This has been a difficult time for our agency with the loss of one of our own. I want to thank St. Johns Fire Rescue, Flagler Health+, and our agency personnel for their lifesaving efforts on Sergeant Kunovich. I ask that you please respect the family and members of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office as we mourn the loss of Sergeant Kunovich.”
Carson says there are no routine arrests.
“When you investigate things like this in the dark and encounter someone you don’t know, there’s always a tremendous risk they may take exception to your interrogation or interview of them and their purpose,” Carson said.
Carson explained why Mendez’s felony murder charge was added and said it can carry a life sentence.
“In a circumstance where, because of criminal behavior by an individual, someone as a consequence of that expires, they can and in this case were, charged with felony murder,” Carson said.
At the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, the flag is at half-staff and a memorial has been put up to honor Kunovich. He was a father and 25-year veteran with the Sheriff’s Office, promoted from detective to sergeant in 2019, and all across Northeast Florida, there’s been a show of support.
Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters shared the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s condolences in a statement:
“On behalf of the men and women of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, I want to extend our deepest condolences to Sergeant Kunovich’s family and friends and our brothers and sisters of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. Sergeant Kunovich’s line of duty death is a tragedy that we all feel and sends ripple effects in our Northeast Florida law enforcement community. While our prayers and thoughts go out to Sergeant Kunovich’s loved ones at this difficult time, JSO also vows to provide any needed resources and support to Sheriff Hardwick and his agency. At time of great sadness, we honor Sergeant Kunovich’s life of public service and his commitment to serve his community until his end of watch.”
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Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook offered her condolences along with the agency’s, saying:
“Please keep the family of this fallen sergeant in your prayers. On behalf of the men and women of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, we offer our deepest condolences.”
Action News Jax was told the Sergeant was a great deputy, friend, and father. His funeral is scheduled for May 26 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church.