Charges Against Teen Migrant Withdrawn in Officer’s Death Case

According to Jose Baez, the child’s lawyer, the case against an adolescent migrant from Guatemala has been dismissed nearly a year after he was arrested in the death of a Florida police officer.

Virgilio Aguilar Mendez, a 19-year-old migrant, was arrested in May 2023 when Sgt. Michael Kunovich, an officer with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in St. Augustine, Florida, contacted him, according to Phillip Arroyo, the teen’s lawyer.

Aguilar Mendez, who does not understand English, attempted to flee from the officer, but a struggle followed, according to body camera footage and audio of the incident acquired by ABC News.

According to the tape, Aguilar Mendez was thrown to the ground, choked, and tased many times.

According to Arroyo, Kunovich died of a heart attack five minutes after handcuffing Aguilar Mendez and placing him in the patrol cruiser.

According to an autopsy report reviewed by ABC News, Kunovich died of natural causes after suffering from cardiac dysrhythmia, which might have been caused by serious heart disease, a previous heart attack, or smoking-related heart and lung degeneration.

The adolescent was charged with aggravated manslaughter on the same day he was apprehended, but this was later lowered to aggravated homicide of a police officer, which is punishable by life in prison.

According to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, the charges against Aguilar Mendez were dismissed “based on concerns about Vergilio Aguilar Mendez’s intellectual capacity and the recent ruling finding him to be incompetent.”

The court just deemed Aguilar Mendez mentally incapable to stand trial owing to his lack of comprehension of the American criminal justice system, Arroyo told ABC News.

According to Arroyo, Aguilar Mendez is from a small indigenous town in Guatemala and predominantly speaks Mam, an ancient indigenous language.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News on Monday, Baez revealed that the adolescent came from a poor household and was reared in a home with a dirt floor. Aguilar Mendez’s family raised money from the community via various loans to help him move to the United States and send money back when he was 17.

Because he has been in detention since May, he has been unable to provide for his family, putting them in jeopardy, according to Baez.

“If he comes here and disappears or doesn’t fulfill his responsibilities of paying that money back, his family is shamed forever,” he went on to say. “They have no way to truly engage in trade in their town. They will lose all respect, and it will be disastrous for them.”

Baez also stated that his client had his “life’s savings” in cash in the pocket where officers believe he drew a knife from.

“He comes from a small little village, lives in a home with a dirt floor, and essentially every police officer in his country that he’s ever encountered in his life has been a corrupt police and they stop you, they take your money, and they send you on your way,” he went on to say. “That’s all he had in his pocket; he never sought for a knife or anything of the sort. They never discovered anything until after he was handcuffed.”

Although the state charges were dismissed, the sheriff’s office stated that Aguilar Mendez would stay in federal prison until deportation hearings.

“Some have attempted to portray Aguilar Mendez as a victim while vilifying Sergeant Kunovich.” “I continue to support Sergeant Kunovich’s actions on the night of May 19, 2023,” St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick stated in a statement. “When we enter the law enforcement profession, we accept the risk that comes with it. Sergeant Kunovich died as a hero protecting the people of St. Johns County, and there is nothing more noble than that. “Please keep our agency and Sergeant Kunovich’s family in your thoughts and prayers.

Police said Aguilar Mendez “armed himself with a folding pocket knife, which he retrieved from his shorts pockets,” according to police records acquired by ABC News.

ABC News analyzed body camera video, and while it does not clearly show Aguilar Mendez reportedly pulling the knife from his pocket, cops can be heard urging him to drop it. The teen can be heard telling officers that he needs the knife to chop watermelon.

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