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Illegal immigrant killed Florida deputy, police say

By Elizabeth Delaney
|
May 29, 2023

Sergeant Michael Kunovich, a 25-year veteran of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office died in the line of duty on Friday during an arrest altercation with an illegal immigrant.

Kunovich made contact with 18-year-old Vergilio Aguilar Mendez while he was sitting in the dark outside of a closed business near the 2600 block of SR 16, a Sheriff's Office statement reports.

Trespassing onto a closed property at night can be considered a misdemeanor, according to Justice Florida.

What Kunovich's Body Camera Revealed

Kunovich's body camera revealed that when Mendez spotted Kunovich's police vehicle from where he was seated outside the closed business, that Mendez got up and began to walk away.

"As the body camera footage will come out and show you, it was by the book textbook legal aspect doing his job to the best of his abilities and duties, and all the suspect had to do was comply," St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick told First Coast News.

Hardwick also said Mendez was trespassing at a permanently closed business at night.

Mendez Attempted to Flee and Resist Officers

After making contact with Mendez, Kunovich attempted a pat down for weapons and Mendez allegedly attempted to flee, according to a Sheriff's Office statement.

When backup arrived, Mendez allegedly continued to resist arrest.

Kunovich and Mendez fought on the ground for over six minutes. During that time, Mendez allegedly attempted to grab Kunovich's tazer, according to Daily Wire.

"Instead [of being compliant with the police] the suspect [also] chose to try to remove a knife from the left-hand pocket of his pants and the struggle was on with Sgt. Michael Kunovich until the next deputy sheriff showed up 37 seconds later. Ultimately, Sgt. Michael Kunovich succumbed basically to some medical issues that actually were induced by the struggle with our subject," Hardwick told First Coast News.

Kunovich collapsed only moments after Mendez had been disarmed and handcuffed. Lifesaving techniques were implemented to try to revive Kunovich, but he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Flagler Hospital.

His cause of death was determined to be "a fatal heart attack following a violent struggle" with Mendez, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Mendez's Charges

Mendez is being charged with resisting arrest, violence, and felony murder. Mendez is "being  held in the St. John's Country Jail on $50,000 Bond (Resisting with Violence) and No Bond (Felony Murder). Homeland Security Investigations is assisting with verification efforts regarding positive identification and immigration status," according to a Sheriff's Office statement.

After being read his rights, Mendez admitted that he resisted because he didn't want to be deported. He also admitted that he understood the commands of the police, but acted as though he didn't, even originally saying he didn't speak English, because he was trying to escape arrest, according to The Florida Times-Union.

Mendez's present status is listed by law enforcement as a homeless migrant worker from Colotnango, Guatemala.

"In general, ICE does not begin the deportation process while there are active, pending criminal charges," Tammy Spicer, public affairs officer for the agency, told The Florida Times-Union.

Once any charges are officially declared through a trial and the corresponding sentence is served, then the deportation process can start.

DeSantis Furious About Death of Deputy Kunovich

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was furious about the death of Kunovich, and took to Twitter to express his thoughts and condolences to the family and department:

“Sergeant Michael Kunovich was killed in the line of duty by an illegal immigrant who took advantage of our open border. Our prayers go out to the Kunovich family and the entire [St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office] community during this time. Joe Biden’s reckless immigration policies are deadly – it is no way to run a country," he said.

DeSantis officially announced his 2024 presidential bid on Wednesday, and hit on the topic of the border, calling it "a disaster" in a video he first released to Fox News on Wednesday.