Resisting-An-Officer Charge Against Rush Guitarist's Daughter-In-Law Dropped

By John Henderson, Naples Daily News, April 13, 2005

A judge has dropped a misdemeanor resisting-an-officer charge against the daughter-in-law of the lead guitarist for the rock group Rush.

Collier County sheriff's deputies had accused Michelle Zivojinovich of interference as they were trying to escort her husband, Justin, from The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, on New Year's Eve 2003.

The altercation that ensued also landed Alex Zivojinovich, known on stage as Alex Lifeson and the father of Justin, in jail. Alex, a founding member of the internationally known rock group, is facing two felony charges that could carry five-year prison sentences each.

Justin Zivojinovich is also facing one felony charge related to an altercation with deputies in the stairwell of the hotel.

County Judge Ramiro Manalich on Monday granted a motion by Michelle's defense attorney, Michael McDonnell, to dismiss the only charge that was filed against Michelle.

McDonnell said the prosecution charged her with resisting an officer without violence while deputies were involved in the course of an investigation. He argued before the judge that the "investigation" already had been completed by deputies when she was accused of resisting an officer, so the charge should be dropped.

The judge agreed.

McDonnell also represents Justin, who is scheduled to go to trial Monday.

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.

The case is turning out to be very much of a "he-said, she-said" one. Even though there are security cameras in the Ritz, there is no recording showing the altercation in the stairwell.

According to witnesses, Alex Zivojinovich was charging up the stairwell of the hotel to go to the aid of his son who had been zapped by a stun gun when a deputy punched him in the nose. They then used a stun gun on Alex several times before he was arrested.

According to arrest reports, Justin and friends had gotten up on the bandstand of the hotel during a New Year's bash ringing in 2004.

Security called sheriff's deputies to escort Justin off the property.

Collier Sheriff's deputy Christopher Knott states in his report that he told Justin he would escort him to the property line and issue him a trespass warning prohibiting him from returning to Ritz-Carlton property.

"When Justin and I walked back into the ballroom to retrieve his property, he threw his hat and started screaming obscenities," Knott's report states. "A second male identified as Justin's father, Alex Zivojinovich, approached us and stated that his son wasn't going anywhere."

Knott alleges that he told Alex Zivojinovich that if he didn't move away from them, Alex would be arrested for obstruction of justice.

"Alex stated, "Take me to jail, I don't care, it's (expletive) New Year's Eve,'" Knott's report states.

Knott contends that Alex Zivojinovich then put his hands on his son's chest and began pushing him in the opposite direction from the way the deputy was escorting him.

Knott said as Justin began to struggle and resist, he could see another officer struggling with several people, including Michelle. The altercation occurred in the stairwell of the hotel.

John Cannivet, a former employee of The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, who watched it, said he cannot understand why Michelle was arrested. He recalls her sitting on the stairs crying after watching what was happening.

Alex Zivojinovich is accused by deputies of pushing a female deputy down the stairwell, causing her injury. But Cannivet said the deputy pushed Alex down the stairs.

Cannivet also said that Justin wasn't fighting with deputies when he was zapped with a stun gun, but he was backing away. But Cannivet's account doesn't match that given by several deputies and at least one other eyewitness.

Frank Barner, the resort's security manager on duty that night, 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 said in a statement to deputies.