Witness: Police Mistreated Rush Guitarist In Ruckus

By John Henderson, Naples Daily News, April 10, 2005

For the past year, John Cannivet said he has had to bite his tongue as he's read distorted versions of an altercation he witnessed between the lead guitarist for Rush and Collier sheriff's deputies on Dec. 31, 2003.

As an employee of The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, where the fracas occurred, he hadn't been allowed to comment, even though he saw first-hand what happened in the stairwell of the hotel.

But now that he no longer works for the hotel, he has this to say: Collier County sheriff's deputies went way too far.

"It was extreme police brutality," said Cannivet, who was the assistant manager of stewarding until leaving that job in January. "The whole time all this was going down, I'm thinking, 'God, what did these people do? It must have been something really bad.' It just bothered me."

He believes he is a neutral source, not tied to the Sheriff's Office or hotel security. When he worked at the Ritz, his office was near the stairwell. He heard a fight going on, so he went to take a look.

His description of what unfolded is very different from that given by deputies.

Deputies in their arrest reports argue that they had no choice but to use force to subdue an unruly and intoxicated Alex Zivojinovich, known as Alex Lifeson in the internationally known rock group Rush.

A deputy acknowledged that he punched Alex Zivojinovich in the nose as Alex was charging up the stairwell toward another deputy. Alex was zapped repeatedly with a stun gun, known as a Taser, before being arrested.

Deputies in their reports also defended their use of a stun gun on Alex's son, Justin Zivojinovich, who is accused of getting the ball rolling when he got onto the house band stage at the hotel during a New Year's Eve celebration and started talking into the microphone.

A hotel security official asked deputies to escort Justin from the property.

Cannivet said the fracas in the stairwell that occurred while Justin was being escorted from the hotel could have been avoided.

"They (deputies) didn't have to use that force," he said. "When they shot Justin (with a stun gun), Justin wasn't violent at all. He was walking with the police. All he did was quit walking."

He said Justin and a deputy had words, and he saw Justin quit walking, and then the deputy pulled his Taser out. He said Justin backed away into a corner, seemingly scared.

"He kind of put his hands up. He kind of froze, and then they shot him (with the Taser)," Cannivet said. "If I were to describe what it looked like after he got shot, it looked like a severe seizure.

"He was just out of it because he was electrocuted for a long time. If you could have seen how bad he was twitching on the ground, and screaming and crying, because it hurt so bad."

As Alex Zivojinovich saw this unfold, he charged up the stairs to help his son, Cannivet said.

"And that is when the female officer threw him (Alex) down the stairs," he said.

One of the two felony battery-on-a-law-enforcement charges that Alex Zivojinovich is facing, which could carry a five-year prison sentence, accuses him of throwing Collier sheriff's Cpl. Amy Stanford down the stairs, causing her injury.

Cannivet said that just isn't so.

"I watched the female cop (Stanford) throw him (Alex) down there. She was three stairs above him, and so she had leverage. She grabbed him by the throat and he went falling backward," Cannivet said.

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

Cannivet said from his perspective, deputies simply failed to control the situation.

His testimony could be critical for the defense if it goes to trial as a "he-said, she-said" case. Even though the Ritz has security cameras, there is no tape showing the altercation in the stairwell, prosecutor Rich Montecalvo said in court last week.

After last week's hearing, in which a judge set a trial date of April 18 for Justin's case, Montecalvo said he had no comment about or response to Cannivet's statements.

"I don't know what would motivate him," Montecalvo said.

Sheri Mausen, a spokeswoman for the Collier County Sheriff's Office, also said the agency wasn't going to respond.

"We're not going to try this case out of the court," she said.

Cannivet's allegation of "extreme police brutality" isn't shared by at least one other witness who was in the stairwell.

Frank Barner, the resort's security manager on duty that night, said he saw sheriff's Cpl. Scott 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 part of the Zivojinovich family.

"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," Barner says in a statement to deputies. "I remember him going from a kneeling position (to) upright, turning around, and pointed at (sheriff's deputy) Chris Knott, telling him to back the (expletive) off."

Moreover, Knott didn't paint a picture of a subdued Justin Zivojinovich prior to his zapping with a stun gun.

He states in his report that as deputies entered the service stairwell, Justin began to struggle and swing his right elbow at Stanford's face.

He states that, as he escorted Justin Zivojinovich to the ground, he felt Alex Zivojinovich pushing into him.

"As the situation began to escalate, with several people filling the stairwell, I removed my Taser (stun gun) and warned Alex to keep away," Knott writes in his report. "I turned to assist in handcuffing Justin and he began to thrash his body. I warned deputies of my intention to Tase the wildly combative Justin."

The conflicting versions would have to be sorted out by a jury, but it's not yet certain when the case will get tried.

A sounding hearing has been scheduled for April 27 for lawyers and a judge to get an update on Alex's case. A tentative trial date of May 16 has been scheduled.

"I think it (the case) is going to trial," said his Naples defense attorney, Jerry Berry, as he recently was leaving the Collier courthouse.

Rush is known for hits such as "Tom Sawyer." Alex Zivojinovich won Best Rock Talent in 1983 in the category "Guitar for the Practicing Musician." He was inducted into the Guitar for the Practicing Musician Hall of Fame in May 1991.

His Yugoslavian parents immigrated to Canada, and he bought a seasonal residence in Naples. His only formal training was during Rush's early days on the Toronto club circuit.

The Rolling Stone magazine Web site said Rush "carved itself a place in the prog-rock elite through three decades of popular releases."