Deputies File Countersuit Against Rush Guitarist Alex Lifeson

By Chris W. Colby, Naples Daily News, October 2, 2005

Two of the deputies who arrested the founder of the rock group Rush during a New Year's Eve 2003 altercation filed countersuits against him alleging he battered them as they tried to force his son to leave the Ritz-Carlton in Naples.

Lawyers representing the hotel and three deputies involved in the arrest filed court papers arguing they acted properly when they ejected and arrested Justin Zivojinovich, who had become disorderly and was asked to leave the party.

The filings came in response to a federal lawsuit filed in June by Alex Zivojinovich, known onstage as Alex Lifeson, Justin, and his wife, Michelle. Their lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages for battery, unlawful arrest and false imprisonment against Ritz-Carlton, and its security director, Frank Barner; and Collier County sheriff's deputies Christopher Knott, Scott Russell and Amy Stanford.

Justin Zivojinovich had began singing on a stage set up for the house band. Hotel representatives told him to stop and, according to his lawsuit, he did.

But hotel officials called 911, and the three deputies arrived to remove him from the property. They allege he resisted, and when his father intervened he shoved Stanford down a stairwell and spit blood in Knott's face, according to their countersuits, which don't specify the amount of monetary damages they seek.

Justin Zivojinovich was charged with resisting arrest with violence. His father also was charged with two felonies, and his daughter-in-law a misdemeanor, for trying to intercede. Michelle Zivojinovich's charge later was dropped. In April 2005 Alex and his son pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge and received a year of probation.

In their suit, Alex, Justin and Michelle Zivojinovich allege the defendants violated their civil rights. Alex suffered a broken nose during the scrape. Justin was roughly subdued and hit with a high-voltage Taser gun repeatedly before his arrest. His father also suffered several Taser hits.

But in defense of the deputies, Fort Lauderdale attorney Richard A. Giuffreda argued the three didn't violate the Zivojinoviches' rights. Giuffreda argued Justin "was engaged in illegal activity on the premises of the Ritz," and committed acts that were "dangerous and destructive."

The deputies used the Taser "in a lawful and reasonable manner, delivering a negligible amount of electrical amps which caused absolutely no injury or harm to the plaintiff," according to the court filing, called an answer and affirmative defenses.

The attorney also argued the arrests were lawful, as proved by Alex and Justin later pleading no contest to a criminal charge. The filing didn't mention that the judge first reduced Justin's felony charge as the trial began, leading both father and son to plead to a misdemeanor charge and probation.

The countersuits stem from the struggle in a stairwell as the deputies forced Justin to leave the hotel.

"During the altercation with the officers, the counter-defendant, Alex Zivojinovich, negligently caused the counter-plaintiff, Amy Stanford, to fall down a flight of stairs on the property of the Ritz-Carlton," injuring her when she hit her back and head on the ground, according to the court records.

Knott's countersuit alleges he was lawfully arresting Justin when Alex intentionally spit blood in the deputy's face.

"The counter-plaintiff, Christopher Knott, was required to undergo monthly testing in order to determine whether or not he had contracted a blood-borne disease ... for a period of several months, and during said time (Knott) was unable to have any contact with his wife, who was also pregnant at the time," according to the countersuit.

Lawyers for the Ritz filed court papers asking U.S. District Judge John Steele to dismiss the suit.

Orlando attorney Judith Mercier argued the Ritz and Barner, its security chief, can't be held legally responsible for the actions of deputies from the Sheriff's Office.

The motion alleges Justin was disorderly at least twice by going onto the stage where the house band was performing. Hotel security had a right to want him removed as a result of his disruptive behavior. And the actions of the deputies once they arrived are outside of the scope of the Ritz's responsibility.

"While the complaint alleges that Barner directed that the sheriff's office be called to come to the premises and evict plaintiff Justin, it does not allege that Barner or Ritz-Carlton directed the police officers to arrest Justin or the other plaintiffs or to otherwise allegedly violate their constitutional rights," according to the defense motion.

Zivojinovich's attorneys have already responded to each side. Defending Alex Zivojinovich against the countersuits, Tampa attorney Paul Weekley argued the two deputies knew of the possibility of injury when they tried to remove Justin from the property "and, having a reasonable opportunity to avoid it, voluntarily exposed themselves to the danger."

Weekley also argued the two deputies were the aggressors, and Alex acted only "in good faith and in self-defense."

In his suit, Justin said he yanked his right arm from Stanford's grasp before she and Knott forced him to the floor "with excessive force," then hit him, with a Taser shock. Justin then was handcuffed by Barner with assistance from the three deputies, according to his suit.

Michelle was arrested when she complained about her husband's treatment. Alex was arrested after he was battered and hit with Taser gun shocks.