In 2011, Steven Seagal was in Arizona to film a segment for his reality show, Steven Seagal: Lawman. For the episode, he teamed up with the immigrant-hating, Trump-loving sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, with whom he planned to film a police raid of an illegal cockfighting ring at a rural property.
The hook for Steven Seagal: Lawman was that Seagal wasn’t just an action star — he was also a real-life lawman. This was almost true. Seagal was a member of the volunteer reserve program in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, where he held the ceremonial title of “deputy chief.” But while Seagal has claimed he attended a police academy in L.A. and has a certificate from Peace Officer Standards & Training, the L.A. Times found that there is no record of any such thing.
Still, on this particular episode of his reality show, he escorted a SWAT team on a bust of a man named Jesus Sanchez Llovera. A year prior, Llovera had been arrested at an illegal cockfight, which was enough of a link for Arpaio to order the raid. This also made things personal for Seagal. “Animal cruelty is one of my pet peeves,” he told local reporters.
In a promo video for the episode, Seagal is unmistakably gung-ho as he mumble-whispers what’s about to happen to the cameras. “Right now, my team and I are gearing up to take down a suspect, Jesus Sanchez Llovera. Wanted for animal cruelty. Allegedly, Jesus runs a cockfight,” he says. Then, referring to allegations of ties to a Mexican drug cartel, he explains why they’ll be coming in heavy. “Given what we know about this guy, we feel that it’s going to be safest to deploy SWAT. We’ll be using two armored personnel carriers to breach the perimeter.”
Next, the video shows Seagal and the SWAT team arriving at Llovera’s location and gathering in front of a building. “The first APC will approach from the south. The second APC will approach from the north,” Seagal says. “We hope to take the suspect and anybody else that’s inside the house by surprise.” When Llovera eventually emerges from the house, the camera pans to his face. “That’s our guy,” says Seagal. The promo video concludes with Seagal boasting, “We were able to catch our suspect by surprise, without anybody getting hurt.”.
The thing is, that’s not how everyone tells it.
By the time the local news had arrived on the scene, the events of the day had already spun out-of-control. “The SWAT team left early this morning,” reported Eric English from ABC 15 News. “Then the film crew and Seagal took off. As for the birds, well, you can see they are still out here — no word yet on when Animal Control will arrive to presumably take custody of them. As for Llovera, he’s now facing 115 counts of raising birds with the intent to fight them.” English stood pointing the cameras toward the chickens and a lone peacock running loose, despite the care and safety of the birds ostensibly being the reason for police action.
Meanwhile, Arpaio attempted to explain to English why he felt it was necessary to bring Seagal, a full SWAT team and two armored vehicles to arrest one man and seize a bunch of chickens. “I’m going to protect my deputies. If I have to use a SWAT team, I’m gonna use a SWAT team. Ready for action, in case something goes wrong,” he argued.
But according to his lawsuit against Seagal and Arpaio’s department, Llovera claimed that Arpaio’s force “used a Lenco Bear armored truck to smash through a gated driveway.” Once they’d breached his property, Llovera watched helplessly as “at least 30 armored MCSO Tactical Operations Unit personnel rushed [his] home. Each officer was outfitted in full riot gear consisting of shoulder pads, steel plates on their chest and back, a Kevlar helmet, goggles, ear and eye protection and a shield. Every officer also carried a weapon, either a Kimber .45 caliber handgun or an M4 Colt Commando fully automatic rifle,” per the suit.
That was just the beginning, too. From there, “ear-crushing diversionary bombs were deployed by deputies as they exited the V-150 tank. Mr. Llovera’s peacocks, guineas, dogs, sheep, goats, roosters, hens and chicks ran for cover. Seven K-9 units swarmed Mr. Llovera’s property while the MCSO bomb robot led the search for Mr. Llovera — an unarmed chicken farmer.”
That search resulted in deputies breaking down his door and entering his home where they found him asleep. At the time, he was “alone and unarmed,” and busy “dialing 911 on his cell phone.” He “did not resist arrest” and “was fully cooperative,” but deputies allegedly dragged him from his home anyway so that the cameras could catch a better view of his arrest. Amidst all the chaos, Llovera also asserts they killed his dog.
Llovera sued Seagal and the sheriff’s department for $100,000 for the damage done to his property, dog and chickens. He also requested that Seagal pen a “formal written apology” to his children, expressing forgiveness “for the death of their 11-month-old puppy, a beloved family pet.”
Of course, Seagal denied Llovera’s version of events. In a press release from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, he said, “I’ve been called a lot of things in my career, some of them not so kind. But to be labeled an animal abuser is beyond the pale and that is simply a role I will not accept.” Arpaio didn’t take any responsibility either: “No dog was even injured, much less killed, during the operation. In fact, no firearm was discharged during the course of this operation.”
Arpaio argued that with all the cameras present, if his men or Seagal had killed a dog, footage of it would exist. “If my deputies — or posse man Seagal for that matter — had done something so awful like shooting a family dog, then where are the photos to prove it?” he asked.
Llovera’s attorney countered with the lawsuit’s actual claims, pointing out, “The letter does not explicitly accuse Seagal of personally shooting his dog, only that [Llovera] wants an apology for [Seagal] orchestrating the events that led to his dog being killed in the ensuing destruction, all so Seagal’s reality TV show would have a properly exciting Arizona episode.” (Interestingly, all 115 counts of raising gamecocks against Llovera were dropped soon thereafter; meanwhile, the lawsuit against Arpaio and Seagal was later dismissed by a judge after Llovera failed to pursue it.)
But even the level of that televised excitement is open to debate. Because to hear Llovera’s neighbor Debra Ross tell it, the inadvertent chaos caused by Seagal and his keystone cops was far more entertaining than the supposed big reveal. “When the tank came in and pushed the wall over,” she told local reporters, “all it was was a bunch of chickens.”