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When Even Sheriff Fleming Is a Bystander to Rumors’ Wreckage

| July 23, 2012

Sheriff Don Fleming was with his wife and daughter and another couple at Farley's, the Irish pub to the left, at European Village, when the verbal altercation with an off-the-clock waitress at Mezzaluna, the establishment to the right, took place in June. (© FlaglerLive)

Sheriff Don Fleming was with his wife and daughter and another couple at Farley’s, the Irish pub to the left, at European Village, when the verbal altercation with an off-the-clock waitress at Mezzaluna, the establishment to the right, took place in June. (© FlaglerLive)

On June 10, Sheriff Don Fleming, his wife Stefanie and her 23-year-old daughter Kayla Bey, along with another couple, went to European Village for dinner at Mezzaluna, then to Farley’s, the Irish pub a few steps away, for a drink. Samantha Rizzolo, 25, was sitting nearby with a friend. She was a waitress at Mezzaluna, but she was off the clock. She and Bey got into it verbally. The words exchanged were quite vulgar, down to crass suggestions about a dog’s genitals.

“It wasn’t an altercation. It was an exchange of words,” Fleming said. “We got up and we left. Mike of Mezzaluna [Mike DiBitetto, the restaurant’s co-owner] called me a few days later, turned out this girl and that guy worked for them. He says I’m going to fire them. I said I don’t want you to fire nobody.  There’s nothing to it. It was—my daughter, this lady, she was a little drunk, I said, ‘let’s get up,’ we got up and we left. I told Mike not to fire them. I don’t want nobody losing their job over something like that. It was nothing.”

Rizzolo said she had no idea who the people at the table were, including the sheriff, only that they were acting pretentiously. Rizzolo was fired 16 days later, on June 26, as was her boyfriend, Jarrett Monforte, also a waiter at Mezzaluna, who was not involved in the word exchange between the two women, but who got violent later with the co-owner of Farley’s, after the sheriff had left.

The firing started rumors that Fleming was retaliating. That does not appear to be the case at all.

Fleming has his issues as he battles for reelection. His judgments regarding various matters have come under withering criticism since late last year. There’s his involvement in the hit-and-run fatality provoked by the wife of a school board member, his free membership to the Club at Hammock Beach, his refusal to fire a deputy who stole more than $8,000 by falsifying time sheets.

Don Fleming. (© FlaglerLive)

But there are also frivolous claims at his expense. Whether because opponents may be looking for more vulnerabilities or because the county’s top cop may have a hard time enjoying a private moment with his family in public places, any incident where he happens to be present could be twisted to undermine him, even as he neither intended nor caused harm in the situation. This appears to be one of those cases. The incident may be illustrative of the break-down of propriety in public places, it may speak to the fluid boundaries between an employee’s responsibilities to his or her employers, especially in a close-knit community such as European Village, and it certainly speaks to the power of unsubstantiated, one-sided rumors propagated by the internet’s warped speeds. But it says nothing of Fleming as sheriff—other than of his desire to leave an uncomfortable situation and leave it at that.

There would be no story if the sheriff didn’t have an incidental involvement in this one. But rumors can fester at the expense of just such incidental issues. They can also be addressed bluntly.

After the sheriff had left, Mort Duggan, a co-owner at Farley’s and a friend of Fleming’s dating back to before his first election in 2004, reproved Rizzolo for her behavior. Rizzolo didn’t take it kindly. “I did not work for him, I was off the clock, so I didn’t have to eat shit from anybody,” Rizzolo said she told Duggan, though in her interpretation of the incident she said she was reproved severely enough to be upset over it to the point of crying. When Montforte heard of it, he confronted Duggan—“screaming in his face,” as Montforte describes it. “I was a little angry about the situation because we know Mort, Mort knows Sam, and for him to make her cry is unacceptable.”

“If somebody is talking to me and says F you three times, how do you think I feel?” Duggan said, noting that he himself never cusses. “I’m 70 years old. I don’t have people talking to me like that.”

As Duggan described it, Rizzolo was standing behind Montforte as Montforte was giving Duggan the third degree, egging her boyfriend to “punch him out, punch him out.” Montforte then turned around and, in Montforte’s own words, “kicked a few tables out of my way and stormed out the door.”

Both waiters concede that the incident was ugly. There were other patrons in the place, which is literally a few steps from Mezzaluna.

DiBitetto, the Mezzaluna co-owner, was traveling at the time. When he returned, he was told of the incident. Duggan says he didn’t tell him. The sheriff said he didn’t, either. Nor did the two waiters. DiBitetto then called Rizzolo to hear the story from her as well. There’s little to no disagreement about what had taken place that June 10, either when the sheriff was present or afterward, in the confrontation with Duggan.

“You understand the position you’re putting me in?” DiBitetto said to Rizzolo. “You know what I have to do? She said yes.” He tried to call Montforte twice but he didn’t return the calls.

The conversation with Rizzolo was not angry. To the contrary. There’s plenty of mutual love and appreciation, still, between DiBitetto and Rizzolo, and Montforte, both of whom he calls his best waiters of long date: she’d been there over five years, he’d been there three and a half, there’d never been any such incidents in the past, they trained other waiters, they did their work very well. But they had also, in DiBitetto’s view, crossed a line.

“They put me in a position that I can’t be put in,” DiBitetto, who’s also president of the European Village Association, said. “I run a business. I can’t have employees going to another business in this community, which is a very small community, behaving in a very inappropriate manner.”

European Village has not had an easy time of it, struggling through the recession but hanging on: the last thing it needs, from a merchant’s perspective, is to send a message to customers—any customers—that they’re not welcome there. “Jarrett and Samantha are my two best servers, the last thing I wanted to do was let them go, but they left me no choice,” DiBitetto said. “This is the European Village. This is one big family. We all interact here with our businesses, we all help one another. It’s just a very unfortunate situation.”

DiBitetto repeatedly said that the sheriff was adamant against getting anyone fired, as was the sheriff himself in a separate interview. “On my mother,” Fleming said of  DiBitetto , “he said I’m going to fire them and I said, they don’t need to lose their job. On my mother. And I say to him, they don’t need to lose their job, it was a verbal altercation, it was done, we left. I wouldn’t wish on anybody losing their job. I wouldn’t.” Fleming added: “He said well, I have a reputation here in European Village, Don. And I said, Mike, she don’t need to lose her job over a verbal altercation. She don’t.”

Fleming even remembered being waited on by Rizzolo previously. “I had no problem with that girl, but she was drunk. She was two sheets to the wind.” (Rizzolo concedes that she’d been drinking, but says so had the sheriff’s daughter.) “I wouldn’t want anybody in this economy to lose their job,” he continued. “I don’t have a need to retaliate. You know me. I don’t retaliate.”

Fleming’s wishes were not the issue, DiBitetto said. Nor is his friendship with the sheriff. “This,” he said, “would have happened with anybody if one of my employees goes over to Europa or Farley’s or anywhere and acts in a manner I feel is absolutely inappropriate, and I ask them about it, and they say yes, it was this, yes, it was wrong, then I have to do what I feel is correct for my business and for my people.”

Rizzolo’s history is not spotless: she was arrested in Volusia County in 2010 on a disorderly conduct charge, and two charges of battery on a law enforcement officer. But there’d never been an issue at Mezzaluna or at Farley’s previously. When DiBitetto spoke to her about the incident, she thought she was going to get a warning, or a talking-to. She did not diminish her role in the altercation. “I understand that he was in a bad position,” Rizzolo said of her  now ex-employer. But she did not expect to be fired. Although neither she nor Monforte saw him there, both claim the sheriff went to Mezzaluna afterward and spoke with DiBitetto. The sheriff said he didn’t, nor that he’d suggested European Village would be off limits to his patronage subsequently.

These things happen, Fleming said, summing up the verbal altercation with characteristic precision: “It’s all bullshit.”

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33 Responses for “When Even Sheriff Fleming Is a Bystander to Rumors’ Wreckage”

  1. Phillygirl says:

    @deepsouth- I guess you’ve never been to the Bimini or Rockin Ranch. Unbelievable
    People, really?


    • Deep South says:

      @Phillygirl – Most of my family and friends were raised in a good Southern upbringin, well educated, good jobs, and good values. We didn’t waste our times hangin out in dumps.


  2. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    @ Deep South: Naw, you guys just shoot holes in street signs and tear up golf course with your 4×4′s and fly an unofficial flag that resembles an over sized British postage stamp. If Northerner’s wouldn’t have come here and developed your swamps to give you a good job you would still be milking cows and chasing after runaway slaves. Let’s not get it twisted this place is still stuck in the stone ages like your precious (Appalachian Mountains) Mon-decks.


    • Deep South says:

      Well my friend, you must find something nice about livin amongst us good Southerners, or you wouldn’t be livin here.


  3. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    Oh yeah, by the way the first murder or murders in Palm Coast was commited by a Southerner. And he currently sits on Death Row.


  4. palmcoaster says:

    Lets do not lay the blame in North or South…as there is trouble everywhere. Don’t be childish guys!
    Both sides of the Mason Dixie line have their pros and cons….and nothing is perfect anywhere.
    I still like Florida very much, as well as Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Bunnell’s green rolling acres of farmland and pastures, Marineland and the other cities along the Atlantic coast. We just need better law enforcement leadership in this county and a harder weep on criminals. Also, our Justice Center Court House hearings are a joke as even described in the local P.C Observer by Mike Cavallieri writers few weeks ago:
    We have the power at the polls to fix most of what is wrong…do not goof up your ballots!


  5. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    No, I or we didn’t or don’t live amongst you. I remember a time here when you and yours would not set foot in Palm Coast unless it was to walk around our first little old Walmart located where Staples and Bealls now are. Camouflage and all like deer caught in the headlights you couldn’t figure why us Northerner’s would buy property here where YOU used to hunt. Thank goodness ITT knew enough to steam roll that good ole boy network over and push that confederate mentality back into the woods. So your family probably sold property made money and you live off of it. But remember something, people from Flagler Beach and Bunnell always point fingers at Palm Coast but if we weren’t in-between either of you still wouldn’t have an exit. YOU come to our stores and shop you come into our neighborhoods and park ten pick ups on a front lawn. Bunnell and Flagler Beach should have expanded if you wanted to keep it Southern, oh yeah you couldn’t do that you lost the war and the slaves were freed all progress stopped.


  6. Tang says:

    I can’t believe this has turned into a North/South battle. Last time I checked, we were one country. I think poor Ms. Rizzolo and her boyfriend, being part of the 99%, got the business end of the stick, so to speak, and the 1% of Palm Coast got away with firing two innocent people. Does anyone really believe Ms. Rizzolo made up this story to discredit the sheriff in an election year? Come on! Only the 1% (the rich pizzeria owner, the rich bar owner, and The Don) know the truth. Methinks “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”! If the sheriff used his influence to get these young people fired, would he admit it? Would the pizzeria owner? Everything considered, I believe Ms. Rizzolo is telling the truth when she asserts she was told her firing was a result of pressure from the sheriff.


    • WheelMan says:

      I must say, the Law enforcement in Palm Coast is crooked and a bunch of pansies at best. They muscle people around and cover up each other’s stains and why do they triple team people for a simple traffic violation? I am a Combat Veteran and I have met LEO’s from all over and when I moved back to P.C. I was shocked at the lack of professionalism these guys display. I am still in shock that the Sherriff is intimidating Law Abiding citizens, all I have to say is I have ZERO respect for the Fuzz out here and they don’t know the first thing about handling a situation without excessive force and making people feel like criminals for minor infractions. I feel for you guys that got canned at your Jobs and I know the truth may never be revealed since it is still the good old boy system around here. Guess what FCSO I am a native of Bunnell/ Palm Coast and you guys still have this place feeling unsafe and corrupt feeling. You need to learn some Core Values, have some integrity and be accountable for your mistakes. Makes me sick, and Flemming, your time is up. Hang up your uniform and take your unjust attitude somewhere else. And the bullying is getting old. And I say all this because I have made numerous calls to the local PD here and an hour later they roll up and treat me like the suspect when I am trying to inform them of suspicious activity in my neighborhood. I would’nt trust my life or wellbeing in the hands of the FCSO for nothing. The only Police Officer I have respect for even though he is passed on now is SGT. Celico. That was one of the finest law enforcement officials I have ever met.


  7. Kristy says:

    To tell her boyfriend to beat up a 70yr old man is horrible! I dont blame Mike and I wouldn’t want 2 people working for me like that either.


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