LULAC SAYS CHARGING LATINO FARMWORKER TEEN FOR FLORIDA OFFICER'S DEATH IS A RUSH TO JUDGMENT

Nation's Oldest and Largest Latino Civil Rights Organization Calls the Officer's Confrontation Profiling and His Actions Aggressive and Unwarranted

December 31, 2023
Contact David Cruz - (818) 689-9991
davidcruz@lulac.org

Washington, DC – LULAC expresses its deep concern and disappointment over the recent events surrounding the tragic incident caught on video involving 18-year-old Vergilio Aguilar Mendez and Sgt. Michael Kunovich in Florida. LULAC firmly believes that the swift decision to charge Aguilar for the officer's death is not only premature but also unjust, considering the circumstances surrounding the altercation.

"LULAC regrets the death of this law enforcement officer and that the blame is being placed on his victim," says Domingo Garcia, LULAC national president. "The incident video clearly shows that the officer initiated contact with 18-year-old Aguilar Mendez unnecessarily accusatory and intimidatingly, not simply to gather information. It is unfortunate that the officer later died. Still, we must not place blame for that death on the young man who was himself a target of excessive force by police and swarming tactics by other officers who arrived on the scene."

The incident happened outside a Super 8 hotel in Florida on May 19. Vergilio Aguilar Mendez, a farmworker from Guatemala, held his cell phone when Sgt. Michael Kunovich approached and ordered him to stop. As revealed in an officer's body camera video, Kunovich questioned Aguilar about why he didn't stop when initially commanded. Aguilar is not fluent in English, so he apologized and pointed back to the hotel, as he tried to say that he was eating and had gone to the store. The encounter quickly escalated as Kunovich attempted to search Aguilar's pockets. This led to Aguilar's panic and confusion as Kunovich and two additional officers subdued him.

Garcia continues, "It is revolting to witness three officers, none of whom speak Spanish, using a knee on the young man's back and neck, as well as a chokehold when he had not committed a crime and was simply walking when confronted. We are unaware of the officer's pre-existing health factors, and we firmly believe that any judicial action taken against this young man is premature and inappropriate."

While the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office asserts that the arrest was "by the book" and justified due to Aguilar's alleged resistance, LULAC disputes this narrative. Aguilar faces charges of aggravated manslaughter of an officer, a first-degree felony, and resisting an officer with violence, a third-degree felony. LULAC emphasizes that these charges should be thoroughly reexamined given the arrest circumstances.

Eliseo Santana, Florida LULAC State Director, adds, "The new law SB-1718 is empowering many to see all Hispanics as criminal and undesirable. LULAC Florida will not accept Hispanics being presumed guilty by authorities without cause or evidence of having committed any infractions. Disrespect, unprofessional behavior, and abuse of authority to anyone is unacceptable. It is obvious that SB-1718 is a contributing factor in painting immigrants as criminals. If blame is to be placed, it rests squarely on Governor Ron DeSantis."

LULAC remains committed to fighting for justice and equity for the Latino community and advocates for a fair and thorough investigation into the incident involving Vergilio Aguilar Mendez and Sgt. Michael Kunovich.

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Acerca de LULAC

La Liga de Ciudadanos Latinoamericanos Unidos (LULAC) es la organización de voluntarios de derechos civiles latinos más grande y antigua del país, que empodera a los estadounidenses de origen hispano y construye comunidades latinas fuertes. Con sede en Washington, DC, con consejos en todo Estados Unidos y Puerto Rico, los programas, servicios y defensa de LULAC abordan los problemas más importantes para los latinos, satisfaciendo las necesidades críticas de hoy y del futuro. Para obtener más información, visite https://lulac.org/