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St. Johns County Sheriff says deputy who died during fight with a suspect lawfully questioned him

Sheriff Robert Hardwick says Sgt. Michael Kunovich questioned the man who he says was trespassing. After a fight with the man, Kunovich collapsed.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick said Sergeant Michael Kunovich died from medical issues related to the struggle with a man he was questioning. 

"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 and all the suspect had to do was comply," Hardwick said. 

"Instead, the suspect chose to try to remove a knife from the left-hand pocket of his pants and the struggle was on with Sgt. Michael Kunovich until the next deputy sheriff showed up 37 seconds later. Ultimately Sgt. Michael Kunovich succumbed basically to some medical issues that actually were induced by the struggle with our subject," Hardwick added. 

The sheriff's office arrested Virjilio Aguilar-Mendez and charged him with felony murder.

Hardwick says Aguilar-Mendez was trespassing at a permanently closed business. Sergeant Kunovich collapsed and died a short time after fighting with Aguilar-Mendez.

Hardwick says the sergeant's questioning of the man was justified.

"We continue to have a high crime area of 16 and 95 where prostitution people that are committing other crimes that are coming off interstate 95 other illegal drug activity in the area. It's a high crime area of where we have a lot of deputy sheriffs that are responding to calls for service," Hardwick said. 

Immigration and customs enforcement says Aguilar-Mendez was in the country illegally. This could mean he could face deportation instead of a criminal trial.

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