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Court Revives Suit Over New Year's Party Arrests

•  Recent Cases     updated  2008/04/30 09:02


The 11th Circuit reinstated their lawsuit over the events that led deputies to arrest and Taser the lead guitarist for the rock band Rush and his son during a 2003 New Year's Eve party at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Florida, after the father-son duo made a scene at the black-tie affair.

A three-judge panel allowed Alexander Zivojinovich, known as "Alex Lifeson," to proceed with his claim that Ritz-Carlton employees exaggerated the rowdy party behavior of his son, Justin, causing three Collier County sheriff's deputies to use excessive force trying to eject the pair from the party.

Alex, Justin and Justin's wife attended a black-tie New Year's Eve party at the Ritz in Naples, Fla. Justin began "dancing boisterously" and "circled the floor undulating his arms, danced with four women simultaneously, and eventually shoved apart a couple who were dancing and, without asking, began to dance with the woman," the ruling states. He then hopped on stage, commandeered the band's microphone and took an exaggerated bow that another guest described as "mooning the band with his clothes on." Alex joined his son on stage and "tapped a conga drum in time with the music for about 10 seconds," the court wrote.

Ritz night-shift manager Frank Barner radioed front-desk employee Azure Sorrell and told her to call the sheriff's office to report the disorderly guests. He also called to make sure it got the message.

The Zivojinovichs claimed that Barner and Sorrell lied to the dispatcher, saying Justin and Alex were "just basically trashing the place ... jumping on furniture, ripping things apart."

Barner also told police that Justin "started yelling profanities, screaming, yelling and carrying on" when Barner told him to settle down, the lawsuit claimed, though Barner had not yet spoken to Justin.

Three deputies arrived and took Justin to a service hallway outside the ballroom to find out what happened. Alex and Justin's wife, Michelle, followed. The deputies eventually tried to escort Justin and Alex out of the hotel, but Justin resisted, leading deputies to tackle him to the ground and Taser him. When Alex tried to block Justin from harm, a deputy punched Alex in the face and broke his nose. He was also Tasered in the scuffle. All three Zivojinovichs - Justin, Alex and Michelle - were arrested and charged with resisting an officer, though the charge against Michelle was later dropped.

The Zivojinovichs sued the three deputies for use of excessive force, and accused the Ritz and Barner of negligence.

The appellate judges held that Ritz had a right to eject the guests, but ruled that the hotel's employees had a duty to tell police the truth. Their alleged lies "knowingly put Justin at a greater risk of physical injury."

But the court affirmed summary judgment for the deputies after concluding that they used a reasonable amount of force, despite Tasering Alex and Justin.


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