Straight from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio: calling a press conference about a jail shakedown -- when Hard to Kill star Steven Seagal just happens to be in town filming his new cop-u-drama Steven Seagal: Lawman at Joe's infamous Tent City -- was not a publicity stunt.
Only it was.
While we were shocked not to see Arpaio and Seagal together for a man-tastic embrace in front of the local media (Mason Storm was busy patting down work-release inmates returning to the jail at a different part of the compound) the A&E camera crews filming the event were lovin' them some Joe.
During the shakedown, during which New Times was granted access inside the jail as detention officers searched inmates and their bunks, Arpaio, it seems, was on the other side of the fence hammin' it up with Seagal's camera crew.
As we were exiting the facility, Arpaio and several men wearing shirts with the words "Film Crew" written on the back were standing in front of a table covered in contraband (things like cigarettes, a cell phone, chewing tobacco -- a regular gulag goody-bag) that the sheriff claims were confiscated by MCSO detention officers over the last three days. The A&E cameras, of course, were rolling.
The large amount of contraband found in such a short period of time, the sheriff claims, was the reason for the press conference. Although, if the star of Under Siege weren't in town, we find it hard to believe that the sheriff would hold a press conference to announce how much shit was smuggled into the jail under his watch. "Hey guys, come see how bad we screwed up" just doesn't seem like a premise for which the sheriff would hold a news conference.
As we were leaving, a woman dropped off an inmate, which was a pretty stupid move considering she had an outstanding warrant for fraud.
The woman was taken into custody by MCSO deputies -- with Joe and the camera crew filming about 20 yards away. Arpaio, you might imagine, had his back to the woman as she was being arrested. In other words, the arrest of a woman dumb enough to drop by a jail when she had warrants for her arrest was the perfect backdrop for America's self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff" -- and the camera crew for a big-time cable network.
When directly asked why he would hold a press conference about a jail shakedown while Seagal was in town, Arpaio claims "I think you all know I do things all the time. I don't stage. But what's the difference with that and Cops?...They're going around filming police knocking doors down. I don't see any problem with that."
Arpaio, in fact, does hold
publicity stunts media events quite frequently. But we couldn't find one instance where he's held a press conference about a shakedown at one of his jails.
Seagal's absence from Joe's right hand was suspicious -- but we have a theory.
Arpaio, from the second we arrived, made it very clear that he was pretty pissed off at New Times (more so than usual, we'd say) over a blog post published on our Feathered Bastard blog this afternoon.
The announcement of the shakedown was made to the media earlier in the day, but the MCSO asked that members of the fourth estate not make it public until 5 p.m. -- when the shakedown was scheduled to take place.
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Nope -- we published the information, as well as accusations of Arpaio's media-slutiness for holding a press conference as he staged a jail shakedown for a big-name movie star, at about 1 p.m.
Arpaio flack Sergeant Brian Lee says the early announcement could have compromised the safety of jail employees. However, as the author of that blog post points out, "you can protect the safety of employees by NOT calling a news conference."
In any event, the early suspicion that the jail shakedown was all for the cameras may have spooked Arpaio into keeping his distance from Seagal when the sheriff addressed the media in an attempt to avoid looking like a media whore. That's our theory, anyway.
As for the results of the shakedown: we were only there for about 40 minutes of a shakedown that was billed to last several hours. During our time in the tents, detention officers confiscated precisely zero contraband.