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Guatemalan Farmworker Virgilio Aguilar Mendez’s Charges Dropped

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Guatemalan-Maya Center’s Mariana Blanco shares the latest on Virgilio Aguilar Mendez, the young man who last year was profiled, tased and ultimately charged with murder only to be found not guilty this week.
the details
Guatemalan farmworker Virgilio Aguilar Mendez, 19, has been cleared of charges related to the death of a Florida police officer. Aguilar Mendez was charged with felony murder in May 2023 after St. Johns County Sergeant Michael Kunovich...
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Show transcript
00:00
Virgilio Aguilar Mendez is an indigenous Guatemalan immigrant teen who was charged
00:04
with felony murder of a police officer.
00:06
It all happened in Florida.
00:07
Virgilio was sitting outside a shared living calling his family in Guatemala
00:11
When he was approached by Sergeant Michael Kovich of the sheriff's
00:14
department. Virgilio spoke no English.
00:17
So when he was approached by the sheriff for looking suspicious,
00:21
he was unable to defend himself.
00:23
Instead, the officer tased Virgilio repeatedly held him in a chokehold
00:28
and pinned him down and when body cam footage of the incident
00:31
was released, it was determined that not only was this an
00:33
excessive use of force to begin with,
00:35
but Virgilio was racially profiled and innocent to begin with.
00:39
Unfortunately, the incident ended with the death of the officer which
00:43
was later determined to have been caused by pre existing conditions and
00:47
not by Virgilio. But of course,
00:50
the sheriff's office had to find someone to blame.
00:52
And thus Villo was arrested and charged with the death of the
00:55
officer. It was really intense dude,
00:58
joining us to talk about the recent update in the case
01:00
is Mariana Blanco, Assistant executive Director of the Guatemalan Maya Center
01:05
The organization helping to liberate Virgilio.
01:08
Hi, Mariana. Welcome.
01:09
Hi, how are you guys?
01:11
Good. How are you?
01:12
Thank you so much for joining.
01:14
Yeah, thanks for having me.
01:16
Can you speak to us about when you first heard
01:19
of Virgilio's case and how the Guatemala and Maya Center provided assistance
01:23
Yeah, so we were contacted back in July by the
01:26
public defender's office. But our work really,
01:30
we really dove into that work in October and our role
01:34
was to be the cultural liaisons,
01:36
the bridge between the indigenous Mayama population and the public defender as
01:42
well as to provide interpretation and to find his family in
01:47
Guatemala. The public defender at the time had not been able
01:49
to contact his family.
01:51
And so that is really where our agency came in.
01:54
What is the current status on Villo case?
01:57
Like, are there any updates?
01:59
It's been many months of back and forth initially when he was
02:03
working with the public defender,
02:05
they did file a motion for his incompetence and,
02:09
and the judge,
02:11
you know, said that he was incompetent to stand trial.
02:14
and fast forward to now we got a private attorney,
02:17
Jose Baez involved on the case just recently.
02:21
Last week, he was able to get the state's attorney to
02:24
drop all the charges on the case,
02:26
which is great for Virgilio.
02:28
That is a big win for us,
02:30
but that doesn't translate into his immigration case.
02:33
So he currently is still being detained now at an immigration facility
02:39
with the feds essentially.
02:40
And so that immigration case is the second part of this case
02:44
that we'll have to tackle.
02:45
I mean, I know he's still detained,
02:48
but how did Virgilio and his family react to the news that
02:53
the charges were dropped?
02:55
They were so happy they were really,
02:59
were over the moon.
03:00
And, and from the very beginning,
03:03
the public defender did a great job in building a culturally competent
03:06
team. And so everybody who's joined has really welcomed that.
03:10
And so we,
03:11
we were able to tell him via facetime his dad and he
03:15
just, you know,
03:15
cried and, and expressed gratitude and said though he has no
03:19
money to pay for any of this,
03:21
like he pays in prayers.
03:23
They just really are a wonderful family to work with.
03:26
And, and of course,
03:27
Virgilio is just over the moon that so many people have stepped
03:31
up and, and kind of taken this role of,
03:33
of being their, you know,
03:35
his guardian when he just was completely isolated for all of these
03:39
months. So he's really feeling the support of the community and
03:43
the overwhelming support of everybody who has really stepped up to
03:47
advocate for him on this case.
03:49
I can't imagine how he felt to begin with.
03:52
Like the, it's so scary,
03:53
like not speaking the language and then just kind of being so
03:56
isolated like big kudos to you guys,
03:59
you guys are doing incredible work.
04:01
What kinds of services or help can people get from the Guatemala
04:05
My Institute? Yeah.
04:06
So we're central to West Palm Beach in,
04:09
in Florida. And our services are a lot of direct
04:13
services, but we,
04:14
we pride ourselves on advocacy.
04:16
And so there's really nothing that our team can't do.
04:19
We're very flexible, very non bureaucratic and a lot of cultural
04:23
guidance interpretation in the indigenous languages.
04:27
But our center is really welcome to all.
04:29
It's not just particularly for the indigenous Maya.
04:33
They're just our niche group.
04:35
Thank you so much,
04:36
Mariana. We really appreciate,
04:37
you know, what you're doing,
04:38
what you and your team are doing.
04:40
We would love to keep in touch and where can people find
04:42
you? All of our social medias are at Guatemalan Maya Center
04:46
You can follow us on there and hopefully we can connect
04:49
soon and next time we connect,
04:51
we're hoping that Virgilio will be here as well and we can
04:54
just kind of celebrate his homecoming after so many months.
04:57
Absolutely. Thank you so much,
04:59
Mariana. Thank you.
05:00
Thank y'all see you.