St. Augustine, FL – A veteran St. Johns County sheriff’s deputy died after brawling with a suspect who attempted to disarm him during an arrest late last week.
The incident began at approximately 9 p.m. on May 19, when St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office (SJCSO) Sergeant Michael Kunovich spotted a suspect sitting in the dark outside a closed business located near the 2500-block of SR16, the sheriff’s office said in a press release the following morning.
The suspect was later “tentatively identified” as 18-year-old Vergilio Aguilar Mendez.
As Sgt. Kunovich, 52, was patting Mendez down to check him for weapons, Mendez suddenly pulled away and attempted to flee, according to the SJCSO.
The sergeant and other fellow deputies ended up fighting with the suspect on the ground as Mendez “continued to violently resist” their efforts to arrest him for six minutes and 19 seconds, the sheriff’s office said.
During that time, the suspect allegedly tried to disarm Sgt. Kunovich of his Taser.
Mendez was eventually placed in handcuffs, but he still managed to arm himself with a pocket knife, according to the SJCSO.
Deputies “forcefully removed” the weapon, the sheriff’s office said.
Moments after the suspect was disarmed, Sgt. Kunovich collapsed.
Emergency medical personnel and the staff at Flagler Health desperately tried to save him, but the sergeant was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after his arrival.
Officials with Homeland Security Investigations have been working with the SJCSO to confirm Mendez’s identity and immigration status, according to the sheriff’s office.
Mendez was booked into the St. Johns County Jail on charges of felony murder and resisting with violence.
May 2023. St. Augustine, Florida. Vergilio Aguilar Mendez, 18, is charged with resisting with violence and felony murder in connection with the death of St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Michael Kunovich. Mendez’s immigration status is also in question. The Sheriff’s Office… pic.twitter.com/TdZlDzeDrn
— Southern Man (@MagicBelle1) May 23, 2023
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Sgt. Kunovich’s cause of death was a heart attack.
Sgt. Kunovich served the SJCSO for 25 years and was most recently assigned to the Central Region, the sheriff’s office said in a press release on Monday.
He originally joined the SJCSO as a reserve deputy and later came on board as a full-time employee.
Sgt. Kunovich served as a senior law enforcement deputy, senior internal affairs detective, patrol shift leader, and SWAT team member during his lengthy career.
He also received a multitude of awards and commendations and earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration while simultaneously working as a public servant.
“Sergeant Kunovich will be deeply missed by not only his immediate family and his family at the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, but also by our community,” St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick said. “Sergeant Kunovich was a valued member of the St. Johns County [Sheriff’s] Office who passionately dedicated his career to keeping our community safe.”
He leaves behind his two sons, whom the sheriff’s office said were Sgt. Kunovich’s “whole world.”
“This was evident as his face would light up whenever he talked about them which was every chance he got,” the SJCSO noted.
Sgt. Kunovich will be laid to rest on May 26, according to his obituary.
“On behalf of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, thank you to everyone who has reached out to offer their support and condolences,” the SJCSO said. “Please join us in continuing to lift up Sergeant Kunovich’s family, friends, and colleagues in your prayers as we all process this loss.”