Charges dropped against Guatemalan farmworker in death of sheriff's officer during arrest

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A Guatemalan farmworker has been cleared of charges successful nan heart-attack decease of a Florida sheriff's officer, a lawsuit that drew personage attraction and prompted a nationwide petition for his freedom.

NBC News reported connected nan lawsuit of 19-year-old Virgilio Aguilar Mendez, in December, aft his lawyer obtained and shared assemblage camera video of nan arrest.

On Friday, nan authorities lawyer successful Florida's 7th Judicial Circuit said successful a connection that dismissing charges against Aguilar Mendez was appropriate.

Expert grounds connected Aguilar Mendez's inability to comprehend English, his taste inheritance and concerns astir his intelligence capacity had raised concerns successful nan case, said R.J. Larizza, nan charismatic successful nan case. He added that a judge precocious ruled that Aguilar Mendez was incompetent to look prosecution based connected that master testimony.

"Arrest and clip served is sufficient," nan state's lawyer stated.

Aguilar Mendez had been held since May 19, 2023, erstwhile he was arrested extracurricular a Super 8 edifice successful St. Augustine, Florida.

He was charged pinch contributing to nan decease of St. Johns County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Kunovich, who suffered a bosom onslaught aft struggling for respective minutes, on pinch different officers, to return Aguilar Mendez into custody. Kunovich walked distant erstwhile Aguilar Mendez was handcuffed connected nan ground. Minutes later he collapsed connected a curb, according to documents released aft nan arrest.

Vergilio Aguilar Mendez, 18, Virgilio Aguilar Mendez.Phillip Arroyo

Video of nan arrest, however, led Aguilar Mendez’s civilian attorney, Phillip Arroyo, to asseverate that his customer was a unfortunate of constabulary brutality and that nan apprehension ne'er should person happened. Arroyo said assemblage camera showed that his client, whose first connection is Mam, an indigenous connection of Guatemala, did not understand nan commands of nan officer.

A petition for his merchandise started by Change.org garnered much than 600,000 signatures. Aguilar Mendez's lawsuit sewage a boost from media characteristic Kim Kardashian's societal media sites, Arroyo said.

Aguilar Mendez remained jailed Monday successful Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Attorneys had revenge a mobility for his merchandise and were awaiting consequence from nan agency, said Arroyo, who revenge a civilian authorities suit successful nan lawsuit connected Feb. 23.

Aguilar Mendez had faced charges of aggravated manslaughter of an officer, a first-degree felony punishable by up to life successful situation and resisting an serviceman pinch violence, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years successful prison. 

Arroyo disputed assertions that nan charges were dropped based connected Aguilar Mendez's competence.

"The charismatic dropped nan lawsuit because, it is our position, they knew very good nan grounds and bodycam videos demonstrated really nan Sheriff blatantly lied to nan media during nan lawsuit and they had nary case. The charges were frivolous and they ever knew it would not guidelines ineligible muster," Arroyo said successful an email to NBC News.

In a news convention past May, St. John County Sheriff Robert Hardwick had said nan apprehension was by nan book and that Aguilar Mendez had been trespassing. He was ne'er charged pinch trespassing.

Arroyo said that 1 hr aft charges were dropped, Aguilar Mendez was moved to St. Johns County Jail, wherever he was picked up by ICE to beryllium held astatine its installation successful Baker County, Florida. Arroyo said he was not informed of nan transportation earlier nan charges were dropped.

“Luckily our squad had already revenge a mobility done migration lawyer Henry Lim to person Virgilio released from ICE custody and location really is nary deportation removal bid astatine all,” Arroyo said.

Aguilar Mendez initially had been charged pinch execution but those charges were reduced aft a aesculapian examiner recovered Kunovich's decease was earthy and caused by an irregular heartbeat, owed to atherosclerosis (hardening of nan arteries) and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

The aesculapian examiner besides listed “physical exertion and imaginable affectional accent while apprehending a fleeing suspect” arsenic contributing causes. 

Kunovich was 52 and had 26 years of service, according to an obituary. He had 2 sons.

The sheriff’s agency criticized nan determination to driblet nan charges saying successful a connection that Aguilar Mendez is an "illegal alien" who resisted "lawful efforts to detain him" and Kunovich died arsenic a result.

Hardwick said successful a connection that Kunovich was a hero, First Coast News reported.

“There person been attempts by immoderate to represent Aguilar Mendez arsenic a unfortunate and vilify Sergeant Kunovich. I proceed to guidelines down Sgt. Kunovich’s actions connected nan nighttime of May 19, 2023," Hardwick stated. He said Kunovich was a leader protecting St. Johns County citizens.

Suzanne Gamboa

Suzanne Gamboa is simply a nationalist newsman for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com