New Details Of Rush Guitarist's New Year's Eve Arrest Emerge

By John Henderson, Naples Daily News, July 25, 2004

Alex Zivojinovich is back in Florida this week, but not for a court hearing tied to his New Year's Eve arrest in Naples.

The lead guitarist for the internationally known rock group Rush is back as part of a 30th anniversary North American tour.

Zivojinovich, known on stage as Alex Lifeson, has been touring the country with the group while he is out on bond facing felony assault charges that could land him a prison sentence stemming from an altercation with Collier sheriff's deputies at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples.

The tour stops this week in West Palm Beach and Tampa.

As it does, new details about the arrest are emerging in hundreds of pages of witness statements, released publicly under Florida law. The statements become public when exchanged between prosecutors and defense attorneys.

As for the court case, next up is a "sounding hearing" where the status is to be discussed. It is scheduled for Sept. 8 at 9 a.m. at the Collier County courthouse.

In the publicly released witness statements, an emotional scene is painted in the stairwell of the posh hotel where the altercation took place.

A sheriff's deputy acknowledges he punched Alex Zivojinovich in the face as Zivojinovich was charging up the stairwell of the hotel to come to the aid of his son, Justin Zivojinovich, who was being zapped by a deputy with a stun gun known as a Taser.

"I reached over the stair railing and struck the subject (Alex Zivojinovich) once in the facial area with a closed fist. This was immediately effective in preventing him from continuing his course towards Deputy (Christopher) Knott," Deputy R. Scott Russell states in a "Use Of Force" report.

Russell explains that he had observed Alex Zivojinovich push Deputy Amy Stanford down the cement stairwell, and rush at Deputy Knott, who was "attempting to restrain a violent subject (Justin )."

According to his personnel file, Knott, a bodybuilder known for his excellent physical condition, is a former Navy officer. As a rookie deputy, he recently was praised in his personnel report for his fearlessness in restraining "disorderly subjects" using "reasonable/legal force."

Russell's report states that at that time he punched Alex Zivojinovich, he was trying to stop him from getting to Knott.

"It was obvious that the subject's next intention was to harm Deputy Knott in an attempt to prevent us from taking his son into custody," the statement says.

This much also is clear from numerous witness statements: Alex Zivojinovich thought deputy Stanford, the woman he is accused of pushing down the stairwell, had punched him in the face.

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

Several witnesses stated they heard Alex Zivojinovich curse Stanford as he accused her of hitting him, but it is unclear from the statements whether Stanford actually struck him.

As Zivojinovich left the Collier County jail on Jan. 2, his nose was swollen and his shirt was covered with dry blood.

Stanford doesn't state in her report that she punched Zivojinovich.

But one witness said she did.

"I just remember seeing the end of when she (Stanford) punched him (Alex Zivojinovich) in the nose, she punched him in the face. ... He (Alex) was trying to get toward his son," said Charles Shed, an employee of the Ritz-Carlton.

Stanford recalled being pulled down the stairs by Alex Zivojinovich.

"The father (Alex Zivojinovich) grabbed my shirt and pulled me down the stairs, where I fell to the bottom of the steps, hitting my back and head on the ground," she writes in her report.

At that point, other deputies responded to the scene and used the Taser stun gun on Alex Zivojinovich, Stanford states.

Frank Barner, the resort's manager on duty that night, said he saw Russell hit Alex Zivojinovich to "hold him back" after he made an "aggressive" move toward Stanford.

Barner praised the way the deputies handled the situation, saying there was "extreme violence" on the (Zivojinovich) family's part.

"The deputies had given multiple warnings to these people. ... It escalated from a simple trespass to physical violence. Justin was extremely violent, kept yelling at deputies, using profanity. I remember him going from a kneeling position (to) upright, turning around, and pointed at (deputy) Chris Knott, telling him to back the (expletive) off, so it was violent on the family's behalf, and deputies acted in a very professional manner."

Witnesses report seeing an entourage of emotional family and friends of Alex and Justin Zivojinovich following deputies, who were trying to escort Justin off the property after he got onto the stage where the house band was performing.

Deputies contend that Alex Zivojinovich tried to push his son in an opposite direction of where a deputy was escorting him from the hotel property, reports state.

The situation escalated from there.

In a statement, John Cannivet, the assistant food and beverage manager for the Ritz, painted an emotional scene when the stun gun was first used on Justin Zivojinovich.

"The deputy tased Justin, who fell to the ground shaking," Cannivet told officer Jason Wrobleski. "The female in the stairway (Michelle Zivojinovich, Justin's wife) began to scream and cry."

He states that Stanford then tried to keep Alex Zivojinovich from getting up the stairs to where Justin was lying, the report states.

"Alex kept coming up the stairs, and the female deputy attempted to keep him back. They both rolled down the stairs together," he states.

Charles Shed, an employee of the Ritz-Carlton, said he was in the stairwell of the hotel just before deputies used a stun gun on Justin Zivojinovich.

"I kept hearing him say that they (deputies) were hurting his arms, and they were breaking his arms, and then he started a scuffle with them, I guess in trying to break free," he states.

Shed said that after deputies used a stun gun on Justin, "he dropped pretty quick and he was screaming in pain."

After the melee, Kyle Johnson, a housekeeping manager for the hotel, recalls seeing a blood-stained Alex Zivojinovich yelling and screaming at deputies.

"He (said) that they were gonna get sued," Johnson said in the statement.

The altercation between Alex Zivojinovich and deputies began after Justin Zivojinovich got up on the Ritz house band's stage. A band led by William Noll was performing alternating music sets with a band next to it led by Freddy Cole, the 71-year-old younger brother of the late, legendary Nat King Cole.

Noll, who was leading the house band, said in his sworn statement that the evening was going very well until Justin and friends got onto the stage.

"Freddy (Cole) was playing. People were dancing. They were eating their entree. Everything was cool in the ballroom. ... I kind of smiled, left, and returned about 12 minutes later in abject horror from what I heard coming through the ballroom doors."

He said he heard a "litany of screaming and shouting" in the microphone; someone had overtaken his band's congas.

"Mr. Cole does not have a conga player. So I knew the stage had been taken overtaken by some uninvited guest," he said.

Noll said in his statement that he saw three people on the stage, including Justin Zivojinovich, who was dressed in a white suit and was shouting into the microphone.

"Another man was in the middle of the stage dancing suggestively, sort of a semi-strip dance. The third was playing the congas, and my heart sank when I saw this irrational takeover of the stage," Noll said.

He said he asked the conga player to leave the stage, but the man refused and looked back with "eyes of aggression."

Noll said rather than get into an argument, he shut down the sound board. They then confronted him, his statement continues.

"You don't know who you're dealing with. You're in a lot of trouble. We're going to have your job. You're ruining our (expletive) New Year's Eve," Noll says the contingent told him.

Noll said in a telephone interview that Alex Zivojinovich wasn't one of the three people who had gotten onto the stage, but he was part of an entourage of family members who verbally badgered him after he shut down the sound board. He said when Justin Zivojinovich was on stage, he introduced Cole as "Count Basie."

Noll said Justin wasn't singing, but yelling "all kinds of nonsense into microphone."

Meanwhile, Cole continued to play and sing.

"His (Cole's) group was trying to be very professional," Noll said.

Noll said throughout the evening, Alex Zivojinovich and women who were part of his party continued to harass him.

"They kept on me all night, accused me of calling the cops. I did not. I play the piano. I don't call the cops," he said. "They wouldn't let up on me all night. It was the worst night of my life. The women kept saying, 'You don't know who you're dealing with.' The only thing I asked our security to do was to keep these people away from me after Lifeson and his friends almost formed a line to come up and badger me. I asked them to stay away from me."

Noll said at the time, he had no idea that the man in the black tuxedo was the lead guitarist for the group Rush.

A well-known conductor himself, Noll said he wasn't impressed by that anyway.

"I've played for the royal family. They were being totally out of line. It was surprising," he said.

Noll said he wonders how Alex Zivojinovich would feel if someone tried to take over the stage while he was performing on his tour.

"Reverse the scenario," he said.