Rush Band Members Want To Join Lawsuit Brought Against Collier Deputies

By John Henderson, Naples Daily News, November 12, 2005

Members of the internationally known rock group Rush are seeking tens of millions of dollars in federal court from Collier County sheriff's deputies and the hotel where their lead guitarist was involved in a 2003 New Year's Eve scuffle.

In a request to amend a civil lawsuit, Alex Zivojinovich's fellow band members could now become plaintiffs in the case and end up testifying locally in depositions or at trial.

Filed in the U.S. federal district court in Fort Myers, the amended complaint requests that singer Geddy Lee Weinrib and drummer Neil Peart, as well as different Rush management companies, become new plaintiffs.

The lawsuit is seeking damages in excess of $75,000.

Zivojinovich's Naples lawyer Michael McDonnell said the actual damages to the band add up to "tens of millions of dollars."

The amended lawsuit states the injuries suffered by Alex Zivojinovich at the hands of deputies reduced the band's touring performances and recording sessions, which resulted in a loss of revenue.

But Richard Giuffreda, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represents the deputies and is being paid from a Sheriff's Office insurance fund, said the judge would have to allow the band to be brought into the case. He expects the judge will, but said that doesn't mean the allegation will be proved.

As court dates continued to change in the criminal case over the past few years, Alex Zivojinovich, known on stage as Alex Lifeson, had embarked on an international 30th anniversary tour with the Canadian-based band that has won acclaim with hits such as "Tom Sawyer."

Under terms of his bond, he was allowed to travel out of the area as part of the tour.

"My only thoughts are that I simply don't know of any evidence of that (loss of band revenue)," Giuffreda said. "You can allege anything you want in America. Ultimately,you have to prove it."

The scuffle between Zivojinovich and deputies occurred at a New Year's Eve bash at the Ritz in 2003. A Collier sheriff's deputy acknowledged that he punched Zivojinovich in the nose as he was charging up the stairwell of a hotel to go to the aid of his son, Justin Zivojinovich,who was being zapped with a stun gun by officers as he was being escorted out of the hotel.

Officers say Justin became unruly as he got onto the house band platform. Justin talked into a microphone 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 Deputy Amy Stanford down a stairwell and spit blood in Deputy Christopher Knott's face, according to their countersuits, which don't specify the amount of monetary damages they seek.

Alex Zivojinovich's nose was broken in the fracas and he also was zapped with a stun gun several times.

When Justin's case came up for trial, 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.

Their probation recently ended early. Zivojinovich's lawsuit portrays Justin as a person who had complied with the wishes of hotel security. It states that after being asked for the second time to get down from the house band's platform, he did.

"(Justin) strictly complied with that request, and never set foot on the stage again, and in fact, began peacefully eating his dinner," the lawsuit states. Giuffreda questioned why Zivojinovich is pushing this civil case.

"It seems to me that Alex and his son Justin really got a break.

The State Attorney's Office gave them kind of a deal," he said.

"They still pled out to criminal charges, which means they don't have a false-arrest claim. It's just a matter of if too much force was used.

"I don't know why they are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, considering Justin's behavior was way unacceptable," Guiffreda continued. "He was drunk and getting on stage and disrupting entertainment there, and he was offered every opportunity to leave peacefully."

Zivojinovich recently filed the civil lawsuit against the deputies and the Ritz-Carlton, Naples. The deputies fired back with a lawsuit of their own against him.

In Zivojinovich's suit, he, his son Justin, and daughter-in-law Michelle Zivojinovich allege the deputies violated their civil rights. But in defense of the deputies, Giuffreda argued that Justin "was engaged in illegal activity on the premises of the Ritz" and committed acts that were "dangerous and destructive." The deputies used the stun gun "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.

Deputy Christopher Knott alleges he was arresting Justin lawfully when Alex intentionally spit blood in his face.

"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.