Rush Guitarist, Family Sue Ritz, 3 Collier Deputies

By Chris W. Colby and John Henderson, Naples Daily News, June 3, 2005

[Webmaster note: here are the 48 page complaints (part 1, part 2), filed in Florida US District Court, Middle District, on behalf of Alex, Justin, and Michelle. - June 3, 2005]

A founder of the band Rush, his son and daughter-in-law filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Ritz-Carlton, its security director and three sheriff's deputies stemming from a New Year's Eve 2003 altercation at the Naples hotel.

Alex, Justin and Michelle Zivojinovich allege the defendants violated their civil rights, battered and falsely imprisoned them before their arrests on criminal charges that were either later dropped or reduced in court.

Alex Zivojinovich suffered a broken nose during a scrape with the deputies, one of whom he was accused of pushing down a stairwell.

Justin Zivojinovich was roughly subdued and hit with a high-voltage Taser gun repeatedly before his arrest. His father also suffered several Taser hits.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages for injuries, pain and suffering, mental anguish and the costs of their defense to the charges, filed in Collier County Circuit Court.

Michael R.N. McDonnell, a Naples attorney who represented Michelle and Justin Zivojinovich in their criminal cases, said the trio had no comment Thursday. A Canadian production company representing Alex Zivojinovich, known onstage as Alex Lifeson, may later issue a press release.

The suit names as defendants HMC BN Ltd. Partnership, doing business as The Ritz-Carlton in Naples; Frank Barner, the hotel security director; and Collier County sheriff's deputies Christopher Knott, Scott Russell and Amy Stanford.

The altercation that led to the Zivojinoviches' arrest began when Justin twice went onstage where musicians were performing. According to the suit, Barner told Justin to not get back on stage or he would be required to leave the hotel.

"Plaintiff Justin strictly complied with that request and never set foot on the stage again, and in fact began peacefully eating his dinner," according to the suit.

Barner then told hotel staff to call 911 and evict Justin. However, Barner never told Justin that, according to the suit.

"Employees of defendant Ritz falsely advised the Collier County Sheriff's Office that plaintiff Justin was engaged in dangerous and destructive behavior, when in truth and in fact that was not true," according to the suit.

The deputies arrived and ordered Justin to gather his belongings so he could be escorted away. But the deputies never gave Justin the chance to leave on his own accord, according to the suit. Instead, they physically restrained him and forced him to walk through a back hallway toward a stairwell leading to a rear entrance.

"During that time, defendants Knott and Stanford applied illegal and unjustified force, and such force was excessive, causing plaintiff Justin severe discomfort and pain," according to the suit.

As he was led away, Justin yanked his right arm from Stanford's grasp to alleviate his discomfort. Stanford and Knott then forced Justin to the floor "with excessive force."

"Defendant Knott then, again without legal authority or justification, applied the effects of a Taser gun consisting of some 50,000 volts of electricity on plaintiff Justin's body with excessive force, causing further discomfort and pain," according to the suit. Knott and Russell then hit Justin with the Taser again multiple times.

He was then handcuffed by Barner with assistance from the three deputies.

"Plaintiff Michelle, in fear for the safety of her husband plaintiff Justin, verbally complained about the illegal and excessive force used against her husband and was arrested by defendant Russell without probable cause or any legal authority," according to the suit.

Alex Zivojinovich rushed to his son's aid but "was battered by defendants Stanford, Knott and/or Russell and Tased multiple times by one or more of the defendants."

All three Zivojinoviches then illegally were arrested, handcuffed and taken to the Collier County jail, according to the suit.

The 33-count federal suit alleges that the defendants "acted in unlawful conspiracy with each other to injure plaintiffs."

It alleges civil rights violations through illegal detainment and excessive and unnecessary force on each plaintiff.

The suit also alleges negligence, false imprisonment and battery by the Ritz-Carlton, through Barner's actions, on Alex and Justin. And it alleges malicious prosecution of Justin and Michelle.

Naples prosecutors charged Alex with two felony charges of battery on a law enforcement officer. Justin was facing a resisting arrest with violence charge. Each charge was punishable by up to five years in prison upon conviction.

In April, Alex and his son pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge and received a year of probation. Michelle's charges were dropped earlier by state prosecutors.

Alex Zivojinovich and his son were guests at the $650-a-couple, black-tie bash when the altercation occurred.

Justin agitated hotel security when he got onto a platform where the house band had been performing and started speaking into the microphone, according to courtroom testimony.

That platform was open temporarily as a band led by William Noll was taking a break. Noll was playing alternating sets with Freddy Cole, the brother of the late Nat King Cole.

Cole said he tried to tune out Justin Zivojinovich's remarks after he grabbed the microphone. But he said he clearly remembered Justin Zivojinovich was extremely intoxicated.

Employees of the hotel testified at Justin's trial that he was verbally abusive and taunted them when he was asked to leave the platform.

When reached at home on Thursday, Barner hesitated to comment on the suit after being read the allegations relating to him.

"This is the first I heard about this," he said. "Without the company lawyer hearing about it, I don't dare speak."

Ritz officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Sheri Mausen, a Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, said she had not seen the lawsuit. Asked what the office felt about the police brutality allegations, she said, "We stand by the deputies and their sworn testimony."

Knott testified he and Stanford were escorting Justin away when he made a move perceived as threatening. Knott said he had a grip on one of Justin's arms behind his back, and Stanford had the other. Knott testified Justin wrenched his arm free.

But Senior Circuit Judge Charles T. Carlton wasn't convinced that his actions constituted violence and reduced the charge to a misdemeanor.

Witnesses gave conflicting statements about what happened in the stairwell. The Ritz has security cameras, but none captured the altercation.

Alex suffered the broken nose as he rushed to Justin's defense when deputies hit him with the Taser guns. Alex was accused of pushing Stanford down the stairwell, injuring her, and spitting blood on another deputy.

However, John Cannivet, a former Ritz assistant manager, said the deputies were the aggressors.

"It was extreme police brutality," Cannivet said in a recent interview. "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."