Guatemalan 18-year-old accused of manslaughter in death of St. Johns County deputy brings in civil attorney

The man accused of manslaughter in the death of a St. Johns County deputy earlier this year has retained a civil attorney in the case.

Vergilio Aguilar-Mendez, 18, has been in jail since May.

He was accused of trespassing on a property in St. Augustine. A confrontation between Aguilar-Mendez and Sergeant Michael Kunovich turned physical and Kunovich collapsed and later died at a hospital.

MORE: Body camera video shows language barrier, scuffle between St. Johns County Sgt., man accused in his death

Aguilar-Mendez’s attorney said the situation is a grave injustice and feels there’s a lot more to the story.

Attorney Phillip Arroyo said Aguilar-Mendez is afraid and stands by his innocence.

Arroyo is representing Aguilar-Mendez and his family and said they are heartbroken.

Augilar-Mendez never thought this would happen to him, Arroyo said.

“We believe this is a grave injustice for what seems to be so far an act of police brutality and potential civil rights violations,” he said.

Arroyo is going off a body camera recording from May 2023.

The video showed that Augilar-Mendez was approached by Kunovich, who tried to search him for unknown reasons.

Augilar-Mendez said repeatedly that he didn’t speak English before Kunovich tried to search and handcuff him. It eventually took three deputies to wrestle Aguilar-Mendez into handcuffs, after which Kunovich collapsed.

MORE | ‘Be our guardian angel’: Son delivers emotional tribute at funeral for fallen St. Johns County Sgt. Michael Kunovich

Aguilar-Mendez is charged with manslaughter and resisting arrest.

Arroyo said he is reviewing if a civil lawsuit is possible.

“But Hispanics in general, those who don’t speak English, are victims of police brutality or civil rights violations,” he said. “And sometimes we never hear that story because of the language barrier. And I think that, in this scenario, it’s very important to shed light on what’s going on here.”

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office told News4JAX it doesn’t keep a list of Spanish-speaking deputies. The Sheriff’s Office said it does however us the language line, and according to its policy, it’s a service available any time of the year with interpreters and translators. News4JAX asked the Sheriff’s Office if Deputy Kunovich used the service during the situation with Aguilar-Mendez and if not, why not? A Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said the question is part of an active investigation and it doesn’t have that information at this time.

RELATED: Video of arrest in St. Johns County highlights issues between police, Spanish-speaking residents

A Spanish-speaking deputy did arrive at the scene after Aguilar-Mendez was in handcuffs.

Aguilar-Mendez is from Guatemala and entered the U.S. through the southern border and was held in federal detention until he was released to his father’s family in Central Florida. His defense attorney said he moved to St. Augustine to work on a farm and was sending money to family in Guatemala while waiting for a court hearing on his immigration status.

Arroyo said he is also reviewing potential racial profiling in the case based on the video and spoke on behalf of the family.

“They just fear for their son, but despite this grave injustice and miscarriage of justice that they are expressing happening to their son, they still believe in our American criminal justice system,” Arroyo said.

So, what’s next in the case?

There is both a bond and competency hearing, in 11 days. We may get a glimpse of more evidence at that time. Once the civil attorney gets all the discovery material, they will review potential civil actions.

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