The heroes of European Village can call themselves heroes again (thought they don’t).
The battery and disorderly conduct charges they got slapped with three days after foiling what could have been a bloodbath at European Village in March were all dropped—charges that, in the men’s view, should never have been leveled at them to start with. The evidence supports their claim.
Vassili Mironov, Joshua Auriemma and Roman Dubinschi were the young Palm Coast residents who jumped on Daniel Noble before he could use his assault rifle—an Uzi he was threatening to use against patrons. Mironov and Auriemma sustained stab wounds in the process. Noble, 38, has since been hauled off to a state psychiatric hospital, having been deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Three days later, Mironov, Auriemma and Dubinschi were themselves arrested. Their arrests after a fight at Finn’s bar in Flagler Beach on March 19 appear to have been the result of shoot-first, ask-questions-later policing based on the apparently false testimonies of that evening’s assailants, who never faced prosecution. Not that the questions were ever asked.
“It’s been a lot of nonsense since the last time we spoke,” Auriemma said dryly this morning.
The three men’s lives were upended for half a year, job prospects jeopardized, countless hours spent in countless court appearances, and taxpayer money spent like water to shove the case along back to its starting point: no case. Prosecutors at one point tried to convince Mironov to plead to a disorderly conduct charge in exchange for dropping a battery charge in September. He refused, considering himself innocent. Both charges were subsequently dropped.
It’s not uncommon. Men and women are routinely charged only to see the charges dropped after navigating the hoops and pressures of the system. The difference in this case is that the three men had made news around the world with their intervention at European Village only to find themselves treated like common criminals quickly afterward, with the cop driving Mironov to jail going so far as to tell him that Mironov’s hopes of one day being a law enforcement officer being history.
According to that morning’s police report, the trio had confronted and fought with Ralph Ortiz, that Ortiz had left the bar when Minonov “threw the first punch” as his two friends joined him.
Auriemma’s and Mironov’s story is different. And it’s backed up by surveillance video, which clearly shows Auriemma at the bar’s jukebox being hassled by three men, one of whom threw the first punch.
It was almost 2 that morning, karaoke was done, patrons had filed out of the bar area, Auriemma was listening to a song on the jukebox a woman had played then gone up to pout in $5 and click in songs of his own when a man he’d seen earlier in the evening came up to him and claimed the money in the jukebox was his.
That man had been with Ortiz earlier in the evening when Auriemma had bumped into Ortiz, or Ortiz into Auriemma: either way, Ortiz’s son apologized for his dad to Auriemma, he said, and Auriemma gave him a quick hug and a “no problem.” Now the son was in Auriemma’s face. “He totally changed his whole attitude,” he said. The surveillance video shows Ortiz walking up to Auriemma in an aggressive manner until, at the last moment, his son or another younger man pulls him back, only for both to then converge again on Auriemma as he was arguing with the man claiming it was his money in the jukebox. And a punch is thrown at Ayriemma, following which two men tumble on the floor.
“I didn’t know I got beat as bad as I did until I watched the video,” Auriemma said. It wasn’t long after that that he and his two friends, who’d been at the other end of the bar, found themselves in cop cars, heading for jail.
“Does it make any sense? I wasn’t involved in anything, even if I wanted to help him with anything I couldn’t,” Mironov said, showing images on his cell phone from the days after the European Village brawl, when he was seriously injured in the face. “They took a statement from a drunk person, that’s all they really had, is that drunk statement against us,” Mironov said, even as people at the bar were telling cops to check the footage.
“There was no investigation done, there was nothing done,” Mironov said. “They couldn’t give me the benefit of the doubt after I risked my life? Nobody listened to us when we got arrested. Nobody was interested.”
“That was the strange part,” Auriemma said, alluding to the uncomfortable coincidence of being hailed one day and arrested so soon afterward.
“I apologize to the officers of Flagler County if we did anything to piss them off,” Mironov says, “but I really didn’t do anything except, I don’t know, save a bunch of people from, you know, that Daniel Noble guy with the rifle. Who knows what he was going to do, you know? And I just did what I was trained to do, which is protect myself and third parties. That was it. So I don’t know if there’s any animosity from them about that. I’m not making any assumptions or anything.” He doesn’t like being called a hero. It wasn’t his idea, he said.
For Mironov, it’s not a done deal. He’s turned down job offers out of state because he had to make court appearances. He’s still without a job (he’s on disability, but still plans to work). “I’ve been staying away from people,” he said. “I’m paranoid even when I go to the grocery store. My head is on a swivel.”
Mironov, a Navy veteran who’d graduated from a law enforcement academy, got Daytona Beach attorney Michael Lambert to defend him (at a cost of $1,500). His friends were assigned public defenders from outside the public defender’s office (which was defending Noble)–Sharon Feliciano and Brett Kocijan. All charges were dropped on the three cases between Oct. 10 and Oct. 20.
Auriemma describes himself as “stable again. Relieved that I don’t have to go to court anymore. I think I had to go to court six or seven times, and sit there for about an hour and a half of my day. A lot of those days were days that I had to take time off from work.”
Mironov carries a Winston Churchill quote in his smart phone. He reads it out loud: “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end there it is.”