Rush Guitarist Charged In Scuffle At Hotel; Trial Could Start In May

By John Henderson, Naples Daily News, March 23, 2004

Prosecutors in Southwest Florida have filed charges against the lead guitarist for the internationally known rock group Rush related to an altercation he had with deputies at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, on New Year's Eve.

The move comes as the group is planning an international tour slated to begin in May.

The State Attorney's Office on Monday filed two charges of battery on a law enforcement officer against Alex Zivojinovich, 50, known on stage as Alex Lifeson.

The Collier County Sheriff's Office had arrested Zivojinovich on six charges. The previous charges included four felonies, the most serious of which could have resulted in 30 years in prison if convicted.

However, after an arrest it is up to the State Attorney's Office to decide which formal charges to file, if any.

Under the revised charges, the guitarist's potential prison time if he is convicted has been reduced substantially from what it could have been under the original charges.

The two third-degree felonies he now faces could be punishable by five years in prison if he is convicted.

The State Attorney's Office also has filed a charge against Zivojinovich's son, Justin. He is facing one count of resisting an officer with violence. Prosecutors decided not to file a charge of disorderly intoxication against him or his father.

"We charged the case based on the evidence shown," State Attorney's spokeswoman Chere Avery said Monday.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Sheri Mausen said the Sheriff's Office isn't about to criticize the State Attorney's Office for filing less-serious charges than the ones lodged by the deputies at the time of the arrest.

"It is checks and balances," she said. "They (prosecutors) know the law. It is up to the State Attorney's Office to determine whether elements are there to successfully prosecute the case. We support the decisions of the State Attorney's Office. We work very closely with them on this, and all cases."

A tentative trial date for Alex Zivojinovich and his son is set for May 17, which is nine days before Rush is supposed to start its 30th anniversary tour. Concerts are planned in the United States, Canada and Europe.

A woman who answered the telephone in Toronto, Canada, at Rush Production said she had no comment when asked if this case might affect the upcoming tour. Tickets are on sale for the event, scheduled to start May 26.

"I can't comment on the situation. I haven't been told anything," said the woman, who refused to give her name.

Zivojinovich couldn't be reached for comment Monday at his seasonal Naples home.

Under terms of his bond, Zivojinovich can travel, which means he could tour while the case awaits trial. Whether Alex Zivojinovich and his son will actually stand trial May 17 is a question mark.

Justin Zivojinovich's Naples defense attorney, Michael McDonnell, said a trial docket is being set May 17, so the actual trial dates might be scheduled for later. He said he had no comment about the charges prosecutors filed.

Alex Zivojinovich's defense attorney, Jerry Berry, also said he had no comment about the charges or whether this case might hinder his client's ability to tour.

Arrest reports give this account:

The altercation between Alex Zivojinovich and deputies began after his son got up on the Ritz house band's stage after being warned not to do so. Justin Zivojinovich became verbally abusive after he was asked to leave the stage, where a band led by Freddy Cole was performing at the $650-a-couple event. Cole is the 71-year-old younger brother of the late, legendary performer Nat King Cole.

Alex Zivojinovich intervened when deputies were escorting his son off the property, trying to push his son in an opposite direction of where a deputy was escorting him.

The situation escalated from there.

A report by one of the officers on the scene, Steven Pulizzotto, states that Deputy Christopher Knott "escorted Zivojinovich's son to the ground as he began to resist his efforts to control him." Pulizzotto states that Knott was forced to use a stun gun on Zivojinovich's son as "he grew more violent."

At that point, Alex Zivojinovich, screaming obscenities, began "swinging and grabbing at Deputy Knott as he attempted to help his son," according to the report.

Sheriff's Cpl. Amy Stanford tried to pull Alex Zivojinovich from Knott, and Alex Zivojinovich is accused of grabbing her shirt and pushing her down several steps, causing her to fall to the bottom of the flight, a sheriff's report states. The document also states that Stanford received cuts on both knees, had "intense back and neck pain" and suffered pain to the back of her head, where she landed on a concrete floor. She later received treatment at a hospital for her injuries.

Alex Zivojinovich left the Collier County jail Jan. 2 in the suit he was wearing at the New Year's Eve bash at the upscale hotel. His white shirt was covered with blood stains and his nose was swollen. He said it was broken.

Arrest reports accuse him of spitting blood at Knott as he was being escorted for medical treatment and say that two deputies used a stun gun on him to stop him from spitting blood at them, which worked.

According to her personnel file, Amy Stanford was a former Naples High School athletic standout, who, in her current job as Collier County sheriff's corporal, seems to "charge head-long into situations requiring two or more officers."

Christopher Knott, a bodybuilder known for his excellent physical condition, is a former Navy officer, who, as a rookie deputy, recently was praised for his fearlessness in restraining "disorderly subjects" using "reasonable/legal force."

The arrest of the guitarist is particularly shocking for Rush fans. The picture of a rock 'n' roll terror hardly blends with the celebrated guitarist's reputation as a gentle, friendly homebody, according to a recent story in the Toronto Star, a newspaper in a city where the rock band has built a stellar reputation.