Reality TV Turns Surreal as Celebrity Cop Steven Seagal, Fleeing Sexual Assault Investigation in Louisiana, Joins Joe Arpaio in Cockfighting Raid
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The world of celebrity 'tough-guy' law enforcement took a bizarre turn this week when chubby middle-aged action hero Steven Seagal, a SWAT team and two tanks accompanied controversial Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio on a daring raid that resulted in the arrest of a single unarmed man charged with raising chickens for cockfights.
The raid accomplished its primary objective – getting the media to pay Arpaio some attention – but it wasn't the end of the story. After the action, Seagal told reporters that he had been operating “on loan” from the Jefferson Parrish sheriff's department outside New Orleans, which had been hosting his A & E “reality” show, Steven Seagal: Lawman. But according to Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times, Seagal, who had been a reserve officer in Jefferson Parrish, wasn't in fact “on loan” from the sheriff's department – he had resigned his position rather than face an internal affairs investigation into “allegations of sex trafficking and sexual assault raised in a 2010 lawsuit by an ex-employee.”
According to Lemons,
"[Seagal] was facing an internal affairs investigation immediately following the outcome of his lawsuit," said [Jefferson Parrish Sheriff Newell Normand] via his spokesman. "And he refused to return to Jefferson Parish, at which time he tendered his resignation."
...In her lawsuit, ex-swimsuit model Kayden Nguyen accused Seagal of sex trafficking and creating a hostile work environment by groping her and making unwanted sexual advances toward her.
The complaint... stated that she was hired through a Craigslist ad to be Seagal's executive assistant as Seagal filmed his reality show in Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans.
But Nguyen alleged that, "what the production company really wanted was an 'Attendant' to provide sex on demand to Mr. Seagal..."
The lawsuit, reported last year by the celebrity gossip site TMZ, is full of salacious if somewhat mysterious details about the aging action star's proclivities, including repeated references to “Mr. Seagal's unique physiological reaction to sexual arousal.”
Nguyen later dropped the lawsuit -- TMZ reports that it was “unclear” from the filing whether a settlement had been reached. But the internal affairs investigation was going to proceed independent of the civil suit.
So, as the New Times put it, “after the allegations in the lawsuit were made public, Sheriff Normand called a halt to the filming of Steven Seagal: Lawman. And A&E had to find another sheriff, one so crass in his drive for publicity that he wouldn't care about the scandal.” Enter Joe Arpaio.
Last fall, the show-boating sheriff announced that Seagal, Lou Ferrigno, who played The Incredible Hulk, and actor Peter Lupus – best known as the muscle man in the original Mission Impossible series – would be joining a special “immigration posse” which would assist the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) in its much-celebrated round-ups of undocumented workers. The Tucson Citizen reported that the swearing in “took on an air of pomp and circumstance because” of the washed-up b-listers' presence.
Arpaio's focus has always been on promoting himself -- enforcing the law comes in as a distant afterthought. The sheriff, best known for his “tent camp” and pink-clad chain gangs, even had his own short-lived TV show called “Smile … You're Under Arrest” on Fox Reality a few years back. According to the Associated Press, the MCSO “used taxpayer money to offer up sworn deputies, office space, equipment and helicopters to Hollywood producers without being reimbursed.” The AP added, “What taxpayers received in return was a three-episode run of the show.”
It wouldn't be the last time “Sheriff Joe” would face charges of squandering tax dollars. As journalist Valeria Fernandez reported last year, a county budget committee “accused his department of misspending as much as $80 million on immigration sweeps, public-corruption probes, and a range of other unauthorized activities and expenditures over the past five years.”
The Board of Supervisors responded by placing Arpaio’s office under new budget restrictions as Maricopa County Board attorney Tom Irvine called the improper expenditures the “biggest misspending of state funds in the history of Arizona.”
A 2008 analysis of crime statistics by the conservative Goldwater Institute (PDF) charged that “Although MCSO is adept at self-promotion and is an unquestionably “tough” law-enforcement agency, under its watch violent crime rates recently have soared, both in absolute terms and relative to other jurisdictions.”
It has diverted resources away from basic law-enforcement functions to highly publicized immigration sweeps, which are ineffective in policing illegal immigration and in reducing crime generally, and to extensive trips by MCSO officials to Honduras for purposes that are nebulous at best. Profligate spending on those diversions helped produce a financial crisis in late 2007 that forced MCSO to curtail or reduce important law-enforcement functions.
In terms of support services, MCSO has allowed a huge backlog of outstanding warrants to accumulate, and has seriously disadvantaged local police departments by closing satellite booking facilities. MCSO’s detention facilities are subject to costly lawsuits for excessive use of force and inadequate medical services. Compounding the substantive problems are chronically poor record-keeping and reporting of statistics, coupled with resistance to public disclosure.
In 2009, the FBI looked into allegations that Arpaio had used his official powers to settle scores with political opponents. He has been dodging a Department of Justice probe into whether the MCSO discriminates against Hispanics – last year DOJ filed suit against Arpaio over his refusal to cooperate with the probe.