Struggle between suspect, St. Johns County deputy who died started after suspect seen trespassing, sheriff says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick on Wednesday revealed new details surrounding the death of Sergeant Michael Kunovich.

Kunovich collapsed after a struggle with Virjilio Aguilar-Mendez and later died.

Aguilar-Mendez has been charged with capital homicide and resisting arrest. Investigators said he’s homeless and living in the country illegally.

Some of the new information that came out Wednesday explains why there was an interaction between Kunovich and Aguilar-Mendez.

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At a news conference to discuss the recent rash of violence against law enforcement officers in Northeast Florida, Hardwick broke his silence about the death of Kunovich.

“Sgt. Deputy Michael Kunovich was legally out with a person that was a permanently closed business in the area of [Highway] 16 and [Interstate] 95. He checked out with him to simply say ‘Hey, why are you on this property trespassing?’ That was a simple thing, simple task. 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,” Hardwick said.

According to this arrest report, Kunovich attempted to conduct a patdown of Aguilar-Mendez, 18.

“And all the suspect had to do was comply. Instead, the suspect chose to try and remove a knife from the lefthand pocket of his pants. A struggle was on with Sgt. Michael Kunovich until the next deputy showed up 37 seconds later,” Hardwick said.

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According to the report, the struggle involved Aguilar-Mendez grabbing Kunovich’s taser after it had been deployed against the suspect. But at some point, after Aguilar-Mendez was placed in handcuffs, Kunovich later collapsed and died, the sheriff’s office said.

“Sgt. Kunovich succumbed to some medical issues that were actually induced by the struggle with our subject,” Hardwick said.

Following the new conference, Sheriff Hardwick said that Sgt. Kunovich and other deputies had been patrolling the area of Hwy 16 and I-95 where they encountered the suspect because the area needed more attention from law enforcement.

“Prostitution, people committing other crimes coming off Interstate 95, illegal drug activity in the area, so it’s a high crime area where we have a lot of deputies responding to calls for service,” he said.

Aguilar-Mendez remains in jail without bond.

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