Action hero Steven Seagal will strap on his guns on Saturday and take down a gang of school shooters in a Phoenix suburb. There will TV news cameras and bloody victims. It promises to be a real horror show.
Show being the operative word, since the shooters won’t be actual bad guys, but local cops pretending to be bad guys. And the victims won’t be actual victims, but local teens pretending to be victims. And the guy running the show, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, won’t be enforcing the law, but rather, orchestrating a dramatic preview of his latest crime-fighting initiative.
Arpaio's press office has billed Seagal—the beefy star of such blockbusters as Above the Law, Under Siege and On Deadly Ground—as a law-enforcement expert who will help train volunteer posse members to patrol schools. The posses were formed in the wake of the Newtown shootings, but didn’t get the star treatment until now. At a planned press conference following the staged event on Saturday,Arpaio (with Seagal likely standing at his side) will ask for 1,000 more volunteers to join his posse, which Arpaio says already has more than 3,000 members.
The school-shooting training event is just "another publicity stunt" timed to latch onto a national controversy in order to bolster Arpaio's national image and fund-raising efforts, says Phoenix activist Randy Parraz, who has gathering signatures to force Arpaio into a recall election. He adds that Seagal, "who is past his prime," shares Arpaio's hunger for publicity.
Neither Arpaio nor Seagal responded to requests for interviews for this story.
Hounded by Department of Justice investigations, civil-rights abuse lawsuits, reports of uninvestigated sex crimes and allegations of wrongful deaths in his jails, Arpaio’s popularity in Arizona has been steadily waning. At 80, he's been sheriff for over 20 years, managing to cement his power and garner campaign donations with a series of well-publicized actions. These include forcing jail inmates to wear pink underwear and live in tents, raiding Latino neighborhoods and workplaces, investigating Obama's birth certificate and, now, sending armed posses to schools in the name of protecting kids.
If Parraz succeeds in getting a recall election—he’ll need 350,000 signatures to do so—Arpaio will likely have to get busy fundraising. His campaign spent $8.125 million out of a total $8.476 million, according to its December filings, leaving him with just about $261,000.
Seagal has had a long movie career playing guys who get the bad guys. More recently, he starred in his own reality-TV show, “Steven Seagal, Lawman,” which aired on A&E and followed his work as a deputy sheriff in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He’s now working on another show, this time in Arizona, which tracks his work as one of Arpaio's posse members. Seagal joined Arpaio’s so-calledIllegal Immigration Posse in 2010. The posse was set up to help with Arpaio’s controversial immigration crackdowns.
Seagal has said he has been “in law enforcement” for 20 years, and recently signed up to train deputies in Hudspeth County, Texas. and Dona Ana County, New Mexico.
Kelly Jameson, the public information officer for the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office, says Seagal "has law enforcement credentials in other counties," and is qualified to train deputies. She says Seagal won’t be doing any filming for his show during the training.
Seagal has been "military special forces trained," Hudspeth County Sheriff spokesman Randy Fleming says. Fleming says Seagal once told him he worked with an intelligence arm of the CIA, but did not go into details.
"He's a cop," Fleming says of Seagal, whom he calls a friend. "You know this when you sit with him more than five minutes. He's a cop's cop."
Seagal, 60 years old, signed up as a deputy sheriff about a year-and-a-half ago, Fleming says, and his expertise training the lawmen of Hudspeth County will be invaluable. And while there has been some talk of filming, nothing firm is planned.
In 2011, Seagal accompanied Arpaio on a raid of an alleged cockfighting operation, camera crew in tow. Their show of force ultimately made national headlines after the alleged ringleader, Jesus Llovera claimed they battered his gate with a tank, deployed diversionary bombs, knocked down his door and crashed through his windows. Llovera refused to sign a release for the scene to be part Seagal’s TV show, and later sued the two in civil court. Neither Arpaio nor Seagal answered the allegations because the case was filed in the wrong court. In a separate criminal case related to alleged cockfighting, Llovera later pleaded to two misdemeanors.
Today, Seagal lives in a $3.5 million home in a Phoenix suburb, and is apparently still a trusted friend and ally of Arpaio. When the sheriff made his victory media tour on election night in 2012, Seagal, dressed in black and wearing yellow-tinted glasses, trailed behind with a camera crew. That night, Seagal dubbed Arpaio the "the last of the great American heroes."