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'24' star quizzed over nightclub confrontation

When the clock’s ticking, Kiefer Sutherland’s famous alter ego Jack Bauer likes to save the world and get the girl by cracking a few heads together. But in real life, the 24 star’s style of conflict resolution can have awkward unintended consequences.

Police in New York were today expected to charge Sutherland with third degree assault, amid allegations that he head-butted a modish fashion designer during a frenzied altercation that cleared the celebrity-laden dance-floor of one of Lower Manhattan’s most fashionable nightspots.

Jack McCollough, the co-founder of the fashion house Proenza Schouler, told officers that the actor had "pulled this stupid wrestling move like a teenager" then "head-butted him in the nose," at around 2am on Tuesday in a crowded bar at the Mercer Hotel.

The incident took place in front of some of the biggest names in show-business and fashion, including Kirsten Dunst and Mary-Kate Olsen, who were crammed into the venue for an after-party celebrating the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s prestigious annual Costume Institute Gala.

Its principal witness, however, was Brooke Shields. Details are still emerging, but conflict appears to have been sparked when McCollough interrupted a conversation that the veteran actress had been having with Sutherland.

Some reports suggested that the designer had accidentally tripped into Ms Shields, knocking her over; others stated that he had instead committed the social faux pas of "cutting into" their cosy chat. Either way, Sutherland took umbrage and demanded an apology. When that wasn’t forthcoming, according to McCollough’s statement to police, he delivered a neatly-timed head-butt. He was "drunk and obnoxious and wouldn’t back down or be logical," it read. "He was just roiling drunk and looking for something to smack."

The affair sparked a celebrity media feeding frenzy. Sutherland has suffered several run-ins with the forces of law and order in recent years, and was twice arrested for drink-driving. He is still on probation after serving 42 days in prison in California after pleading "no contest" to charges of driving while impaired in 2007.

An assault charge would complicate matters with regard to Sutherland’s parole, under which he has agreed to "obey all laws." If found guilty of even a minor misdemeanour, California’s prosecutors could send the Canadian actor straight back to jail, potentially disrupting filming of next series of 24.

Reporters were yesterday camped outside a flat belonging to Sutherland’s girlfriend, the Allure magazine editor Siobhan Bonnouvrier. On Wednesday afternoon, they saw him emerge briefly before shouting "no, no, no!" and closing the door.

McCollough was photographed shielding his eyes with dark glasses and sporting a cut on the bridge of his nose. His spokesman told People magazine: "All we can say at this point is that he was the victim of a vicious, violent, unprovoked assault and that the matter is in the hands of the authorities."

Meanwhile Brooke Shields seemed anxious to prevent McCollough being blamed for the altercation, authorising a spokesman to deny rumours that he'd behaved in an unchivalrous manner. "nothing happened to [Shields]," he told the paparazzi website TMZ. "Jack did nothing inappropriate. It’s not clear what caused Kiefer to do what he did."

Despite his old-fashioned action hero status, Sutherland, 42, has a reputation for eccentricity. The son of Donald Sutherland and Shirley Douglas, he starred in a string of hit "brat pack" films in the late 1980s, including The Lost Boys, Young Guns and Flatliners, but quit acting in the late 1990s to become a professional Rodeo rider.

He was tempted back into the profession in 2000 by the role of Jack Bauer, for which he later won a Best Actor Emmy. But since his return, Sutherland’s affection for the party circuit has consistently spawned headlines.

In addition to his drink driving arrests in 2004 and 2007, he was last year the subject of a viral video which showed him rugby tackling a Christmas tree in a hotel lobby, while visibly intoxicated.

Some witnesses to Wednesday’s incident told newspapers that he’d earlier been "wearing a giant feather boa and acting totally crazy." Others ventured that McCullough might have avoided being "Jack Bauered" by Sutherland if, like many a baddie in 24, he’d agreed to answer one simple question: "who are you working for?"