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Case Dismissed Against Teen Migrant Accused In Police Officer’s Death

The case has been dismissed against a teen migrant from Guatemala almost a year after he was arrested following the death of a Florida police officer, according to Jose Baez, the teen’s lawyer.

Virgilio Aguilar Mendez, a 19-year-old migrant, was arrested in May 2023 after Sgt. Michael Kunovich, an officer with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in St. Augustine, Florida, approached the teen, according to Phillip Arroyo, another lawyer for the teen. Aguilar Mendez, who does not speak English, attempted to walk away from the officer, but a struggle ensued, according to body camera video and audio of the incident reviewed by ABC News.

Aguilar Mendez was thrown on the ground, put in a chokehold and tased on multiple occasions, according to the footage.

MORE: Petition calls for release of Guatemalan teen charged with officer’s death following heart attackFive minutes after Aguilar Mendez was handcuffed and put into the patrol car, Kunovich suffered a heart attack and died, according to Arroyo.

Kunovich died of natural causes after suffering cardiac dysrhythmia, according to an autopsy report reviewed by ABC News, which may have been a result of the severe heart disease, a prior heart attack or heart and lung deterioration due to smoking.

The teen was charged with aggravated manslaughter on the same day he was arrested, which was later reduced to aggravated homicide of a police officer, which is punishable by life in prison.

Case Dismissed Against Teen Migrant Accused In Police Officer's Death
Phillip Arroyo Law – PHOTO: Virgilio Aguilar Mendez has been held without bond since May 19. Aguilar has been charged with aggravated manslaughter after an officer who tried to arrest him died of a heart attack.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that the charges against Aguilar Mendez were dismissed “based on concerns about the intellectual capacity of Vergilio Aguilar Mendez and the recent ruling finding him to be incompetent.”

Aguilar Mendez was recently declared by the court as being mentally incompetent to stand trial due to his lack of understanding of the American criminal justice system, Arroyo told ABC News.

Aguilar Mendez is from a small Indigenous community in Guatemala and primarily speaks the ancient indigenous language Mam, according to Arroyo.

MORE: New York City discovers migrants being housed illegally in furniture storeIn an exclusive interview with ABC News on Monday, Baez said the teen comes from a poor family and was raised in a home with a dirt floor. Aguilar Mendez’s family pooled money together from the community through various loans to help him travel to the United States so that he could send money back when he was 17. Because he’s been in custody since May, he has been unable to provide for his family and it has placed his relatives in danger, Baez said.

“If he comes here and disappears or doesn’t fulfill his responsibilities of paying that money back, his family is shamed forever,” he said. “They have no way of really engaging in commerce in their community. They will have no respectability and it’ll damage them completely.”

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