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The high-profile lawyer for an illegal migrant from Guatemala slammed Florida police after his client’s charges were dismissed in the manslaughter of a police deputy.

Virgilio Aguilar Mendez, 19, was charged with aggravated manslaughter of an officer after a scuffle involving several law enforcement officers in May 2023 left Sgt. Michael Kunovich of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office dead.

On Friday, Aguilar Mendez’s charges were dropped, but the teen remains in federal custody in Florida and faces deportation. 

“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,” the 7th District State Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “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.” 


Jose Baez

Defense attorney Jose Baez has joined Aguilar Mendez’s defense. (MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

Following the ruling, Aguilar Mendez’s attorney, Jose Baez, blasted the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office for “creating a false narrative” that the teen “failed to follow instructions.”

Baez said that Aguilar Mendez primarily spoke Mam, a Guatemalan language, and is not competent in English.

“Culture that starts and ends with the sheriff, who not only doubled down and tripled down by creating a false narrative that this young man, who came in at 17, was someone who failed to follow instructions,” Baez said in a press conference following Aguilar Mendez’s dismissal.

“He says if he only followed instructions Kunovich would still be alive,” Baez said. “I want to one day see him comply to orders given to him in Mam or Spanish and I would guarantee you that he would not comply. Then claim Vergilio Aguilar Mendez was going to use a knife, knowing that was a lie,” Baez said.

St. Johns County Sheriff's Office vehicle

Sgt. Michael Kunovich was a 25-year veteran of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. (St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office / Facebook)

The dismissal comes nine months after Kunovich, 52, collapsed from “medical distress” during the encounter with Aguilar Mendez, who was 18 at the time. The officer later died.

According to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, Kunovich initially approached Aguilar Mendez about 9 p.m. on May 19, suspecting him of a crime. Aguilar Mendez then continued walking away from the deputy.

“Aguilar Mendez was walking on a public sidewalk and speaking with his mother, which is not a crime,” the lawsuit states. “When Sgt. Kunovich seized Aguilar Mendez, he stopped and did not try to flee.”


The officer pursued Aguilar Mendez, who apologized in English, before continuing to resist the arrest.

The migrant was allegedly confused and told the deputy: “I’m sorry, no speak, no speak English.”

Other deputies, including those who spoke Spanish, responded to the scene, which ultimately saw the officers tase the migrant and tackle him to the ground, Sheriff Robert Hardwick said at the time.

The sheriff’s office said the deputies attempted to restrain Aguilar Mendez, who they claim was resisting arrest.

“While fighting on the ground, the suspect attempted to grab Sergeant Kunovich’s taser and continued to violently resist for approximately 6 minutes and 19 seconds,” Hardwick said.

The deputies then handcuffed the migrant, but he managed to acquire a small pocketknife. The office did not say if the migrant attempted to use the weapon.

“Sergeant Kunovich collapsed moments after the subject was disarmed and relentless lifesaving measures were initiated by St. Johns County Fire Rescue and Flagler Health+ personnel. He was ultimately pronounced deceased shortly after transport to Flagler Hospital,” the statement continued.


Baez claims that his client was confused and was “unable to understand the brutality of the officers.”

The scuffle was recorded by the officers’ bodycams and the lawyers point to the video as evidence of the migrant’s inability to understand or speak English.

“Without question, Aguilar Mendez did not understand the purpose or reason for the officers to pile on him, to physically strike him multiple times, and the repeated use of a taser by Sgt. Kunovich,” Baez said.

Attorney Jose Baez enters the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Florida

Attorney Jose Baez enters the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla., in November.  (Larry Paci for Fox News Digital)

A lawsuit from Baez claimed that Lt. Jose Jimenez, another responding deputy, did not make Aguilar Mendez aware of his Miranda rights, or attempt to obtain an interpreter for him.

The deputies “knew there was a substantial likelihood that Aguilar Mendez would be unable to communicate effectively, absent any interpretive aid for Mam, and ignored Aguilar Mendez’s statutory rights and SJCSO’s policies regarding limited English proficiency,” the lawsuit reads.


Kunovich was a 25-year veteran of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Hardwick described him as a “valued member of the St. Johns County Office who passionately dedicated his career to keeping our community safe.”

The St. John’s Sheriffs Department and Jose Baez were not immediately available for comment.

Fox News’ Lawrence Richard contributed to this report.

Sarah Rumpf-Whitten is a breaking news writer for Fox News Digital and Fox Business. 

She is a native of Massachusetts and is based in Orlando, Florida.

Story tips and ideas can be sent to [email protected] and on X: @s_rumpfwhitten.

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