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Revealing Look at How Flagler Beach Commission, in Closed-Door Meeting, Settled Wrongful Arrest Claim

| March 9, 2017

Vassili Mironov had sued the Flagler Beach Police Department for $89,000. He got $6,000. (© FlaglerLive)

Vassili Mironov had sued the Flagler Beach Police Department for $89,000. He got $6,000. (© FlaglerLive)

A divided Flagler Beach City Commission agreed to a $6,000 settlement in a wrongful arrest lawsuit Vassili Mironov filed in 2015 following his arrest three years ago after a fight at Finns bar in Flagler Beach. Mironov had initially asked for $89,000.


The commission agreed to the settlement in a closed-door session in January, the substance of which was disclosed this week in a transcript that revealed in detail how and what leads city officials to settle a case. City attorney Drew Smith recommended settling the case for $6,000 because continuing it would cost between $20,000 to $30,000 in legal fees alone. And the city’s insurer had approved the settlement. Until then, very little had been spent on the case, which had just gone into early mediation.

Mironov’s case had drawn attention three years ago because his arrest, along with that of his friends Roman Dubinschi and Joshua Auriemma on similar charges, had followed by days their sudden status as heroes: they were the trio that had foiled what could have been a mass shooting at European Village when Daniel Noble, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran with whom they’d had words earlier (they’d asked him to leave), turned up at Europa Lounge looking like Rambo, as he was described in court papers, and with an Uzi assault rifle and two hunting knives.

Noble confronted Mironov and his friends. He fired two shots before he was subdued in a violent scuffle. Noble had managed to stab Mironov in the eye and injure Mironov’s two friends.

After initially facing an attempted murder charge, Noble pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated battery and a count of aggravated assault in December. He faces between eight and 35 years in prison when he’s sentenced in May.

The arrests at Finns were the result of a fight that was not captured on video. The charges had relied on one witness’ account, and Mironov denied all along that he’d instigated the fight. The charges against him and his friends were dropped. And Mironov sued both the Flagler Beach Police Department and Europa Lounge. He charged Europa with “negligent security.” He dropped that lawsuit on Feb. 10.

The complaint against the Flagler Beach Police Department charged false arrest and imprisonment. Mironov was represented by Matthew Maguire and Dennis Bayer, the Flagler Beach attorneys. (Mironov in December 2013 had faced a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and a battery charge after he was accused of attacking another man at European Village from behind. The charges were dropped the following June.)

The city commission knew little to nothing about the case when it met in secret, as the law permits when discussing pending litigation, to decide the case.

“I’m sorry, I know nothing about this,” Jane Mealy. Who chairs the commission, told Drew Smith, the city attorney, at the beginning of the closed-door meeting. Commissioner Marshall Shupe complained about not having received any prior information, though he remembered Mironov being one of the “good guys” in the European Village incident. Commissioner Rick Belhumeur was also displeased with having no information before the secret meeting. “So that’s typically how this works then, huh? We don’t know anything,” he said. He had been elected a year earlier.

Smith, the city attorney, filled in the commission. He said the state attorney ultimately “did not pursue anything on” the case (the state attorney had, in fact, filed charges, and a plea was scheduled two weeks before the state attorney dropped the charges.) “And it always puts the jurisdictions in a hard spot when the state attorney doesn’t prosecute,” Smith continued, “because that immediately raises the – well, if they didn’t prosecute, then why did you arrest me in the first place? That’s not how it works, but that’s what they argued.” But in laying out the case, Smith conceded that the case against Mironov was weak to non-existent. What video existed, from inside of Finns, showed that Mironov was not involved.

In the end, Smith called it a good “economic settlement” for the city.

Commissioner Joy McGrew worried about “opening a can of worms” for any future such arrests, though Smith said the settlement would not be precedent-setting. “The only concern—it’s a constant concern whenever you’re dealing with these kinds of claims is, does it encourage others?” Smith said, apparently not concerned about the equally real possibility that Mironov was, in fact, wrongfully arrested—and that it is such false arrests that these legal actions combat, and that the city itself should be ensuring that its cops don’t carry out.

Whether Mironov was treated fairly or not, whether he was wrongfully arrested or not, was not part of the attorney’s or the commission’s discussion. The approach was more candidly cynical. “You know, everybody knows,” Smith said, “whether it’s a city of a corporation, everybody knows when, you know, if you can make it expensive enough to defend a claim, it’s cheaper to settle. And I don’t think we’re doing anything to cause more of that, just because I think there is already a certain level of it just in the public already.”

“On principle,” McGrew said, “I don’t want to, but in light of the city, I would say settle.”

“I don’t think it’s my job to decide if the police did right, wrong or indifferent,” Commissioner Kim Carney said. “I think we’re being asked as a body to negotiate and settle for the benefit of the city. I don’t—I wouldn’t want to get into the details of the case, because in this case you’re bringing forth a settlement that seems very reasonable.” She added, “So, you know, we are not getting any mud on our face. And I surely wouldn’t want to look through a case docket, you know, 40-40 pages long, whatever depositions, or whatever you did to get to where you got.”

Mealy agreed, saying “it’s not up to us to decide if the police do their job right or not. We’re not police officers, we don’t know how incidents should be handled.”

Belhumeur asked about feedback from the police chief.

“Nobody did anything wrong,” Smith said. “I’m not just saying it because that’s our position in the litigation. Our position is nobody did anything wrong, this was not a wrongful arrest. And I’m not sitting here telling you that it was. There was a witness that said this is what happened. He based his arrest on that. That is appropriate for an officer to do.”

“Without even knowing what happened inside prior?” Mealy asked (though, in fact, what happened prior, inside, was known: it was on video, and Mironov was shown to have been uninvolved in the altercation, and had also been exonerated by the Finns bouncer.)

“The arrest was not based on what happened inside,” Smith said.

Smith is right in this regard: it happens all the time, as officers make arrests based on a single individual’s claims. Judgment and discretion play a bigger or lesser role, depending on the officer’s experience and temperament, but it isn’t the officer’s job to prove those claims or have them proven at the point of arrest.

“I find it odd that we fold for $6,000 so quickly,” Belhumeur said, though Carney asked him if he wanted to spend $30,000 to save $6,000.

The commissioners wondered if Mironov had an attorney and how he was paying the bills. “It’s a contingency,” Smith told them. “The attorney invests his time, but [Mironov] does not,” Smith said. “That’s one of the problems with this type of cases, the plaintiffs aren’t spending their own dollars.”

Carney at one point raised the possibility of calling Mironoiv’s bluff, but was dissuaded by the attorney. But as the closed-door session wore on, there was clear hesitancy from Belhumeur and Shupe about the case, with Shupe wondering what had led Mironov to sue, and asking questions about how this would affect Mironov personally—the mug shot on the web, his job prospects. “Well, the fact that his mug shot is out there, it’s out there and it’s never going to be taken back,” Shupe said, unaware that Mironov’s mug shot was already out there from the previous arrest. He also has a drunk driving charge, Smith told the commissioners, so he may not expunge his record. But it did not appear as if Shupe was in favor of the settlement.

“So this $4,800 is going to make him happy?” Shupe asked.

“$6,000,” Smith said.

“Well,” Shupe said, “he’s got to pay his attorney the 20 percent.”

“Right.”

“So he’s going to get $4,800 out of this if he’s lucky.”

Carney reminded Shupe that the city’s insurer would pay the sum, not city coffers directly, though the city pays premiums. “It ‘ s obviously a man thing, but it’s okay,” Carney said. “But the reality is, that ‘ s why we ‘ re insured.”

The session took 20 minutes. The commission then reopened its doors and voted 3-2, with Shupe and Belhumeur against, to approve the settlement.

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10 Responses for “Revealing Look at How Flagler Beach Commission, in Closed-Door Meeting, Settled Wrongful Arrest Claim”

  1. Vass says:

    Mr. Pierre thank you for your special attention towards my persona. It’s not really about money and how much I got in the end. I fought for justice and won in the end. There must be hundreds of other cases out there where people have been arrested without cause and don’t get a chance to fight it like I did. In the end there was justice. And it doesn’t matter how much money I got. Whether it was one dollar or a thousand.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t it easier to just do the job right to begin with so settlements like this don’t have to be paid? I can’t help but wonder how many others may be entitled to compensation who just haven’t pressed matters.

  3. The Ghost of America says:

    ‘Commissioner Joy McGrew worried about “opening a can of worms” for any future such arrests, though Smith said the settlement would not be precedent-setting. “The only concern—it’s a constant concern whenever you’re dealing with these kinds of claims is, does it encourage others?” Smith said, apparently not concerned about the equally real possibility that Mironov was, in fact, wrongfully arrested—and that it is such false arrests that these legal actions combat, and that the city itself should be ensuring that its cops don’t carry out.’

    Hahaha welp, there you go. “Golly gee, we don’t want to encourage others to sue us for wrongful arrest because we wrongfully arrested someone.” What an idiot.

  4. Dave says:

    Starting a fight with a guy and then getting stabbed when he comes back does not make you a hero.

  5. Paul says:

    Lol. Nobody started a fight with Mr. Noble. I was a patron of Europa that night and am very thankful for what Mr. Mironov and his friends did. Noble was getting belligerent inside Europa and was being told by everyone there to leave including the bars owner who was telling Noble that he was going to call the cops if he didn’t leave his establishment. As Noble was exiting he was yelling at several people to follow him out into the parking lot but nobody took him up on that offer. So stop your knee yerk comments like you were there. Vassili and his friends saved dozens of innocent people that night including myself and my girlfriend and we are very grateful. I’m glad he sued the Flagler cops and won. His arrest was total BS. Should be more people out there like him.

  6. Gkimp says:

    This was not a win! It was a business decision made by the insurance company. When it cost more to defend a lawsuit then settle it, the insurance company always settles the lawsuit without the input of the Government entity or the officer’s input. This story should have been about frivolous law suits and how much criminals bleed out tax dollars.

  7. John C says:

    Well looks like in this case the criminals were the police. These false arrests can change people’s negatively like loosing a job or finding one. Besides reflecting negativity on their record and their mugshot being out there for no reason whatsoever. But the cops don’t really care what happens to he people who they falsely arrest and just shrug it off later without facing any consequences. I’m glad that in this case there was some justice done.

  8. BIG says:

    The commissioners wondered if Mironov had an attorney and how he was paying the bills. “It’s a contingency,” Smith told them. “The attorney invests his time, but [Mironov] does not,” Smith said. “That’s one of the problems with this type of cases, the plaintiffs aren’t spending their own dollars.”

    When did it become a crime to hold police along with state & local government officials accountable for their actions?
    Who cares if he is not spending his own money. How bold of a statement that is when to defend the police department or city they are using tax payer dollars?
    We jump to arrest too quickly without doing proper police work. One witness should never be enough evidence to arrest someone when there is a bar full of people and a surveillance tape to tend to. Remember a decision of bad judgement from a police officer can ruin someones professional & personal life. So lets hold police to the very standard that we imagine them to be.

  9. Adam Frank says:

    It isn’t clear if Mr. Mironov’s settlement included his attorney fee’s outside of the $6,000. Settlement.

  10. Andominous says:

    Omg. What is this question even mean? What does it matter? The guy won. Don’t understand why people won’t leave him alone. He’s a Hero. Why are people trying to undermine that. Especially after the way he was treated by the community. He should’ve gotten invited to the White House or something. Like the guy Spencer Stone did.

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