Militarization of Police

Updates and a Civil Suit From That 2011 Maricopa County SWAT Raid Starring Steven Seagal

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Remember that March 2011 Maricopa County SWAT raid over cockfighting which starred occasional-"lawman" Steven Seagal? Well, at long last a lawsuit by the homeowner/alleged cockfighter Jesus Llovera is going forward.

Seagal and the Maricopa County sheriff's department, as well as the County Board of Supervisors are all named in a civil suit which alleges that the use of 40 deputies, a tank, a bomb robot, and a c-list movie star were for the benefit of the Steven Seagal: Lawman television show, as well as the members of the media who had been alerted to the raid. Because his house was damaged and his puppy was killed, Llovera is asking for unspecified damages, as well as dismissal of the charges against him.

On the morning of the raid, Llovera says his first reaction to the sounds outside was to reach for the phone and begin to dial 911. Then, according to The Arizona Republic:

He made it to the hallway just as his bedroom windows shattered. At his door, members of a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office SWAT team in full riot gear told him to get on the floor.

He was handcuffed and taken outside, where action-movie actor Steven Seagal waited, clad in camouflage and sunglasses and hoisting a rifle.

"I looked up and saw his face," Llovera said. "It was very strange."

Indeed.

Llovera, to his credit, refused to sign the release which would allow the footage of the raid to be used on Seagal's television show. Considering the intimidation factor, that's impressive. Footage of this level of law enforcement lunacy might help enlighten the public, though, so that's a bit of a downside.

Says the Republic:

Robert Campos, Llovera's attorney, has asked the court in the criminal case to throw out evidence discovered at Llovera's home, arguing that the warrant was not served property.

Campos said his client was not involved with cockfighting, as authorities suspect. But, even if he were, the raid "was still overkill, and that's the whole point."

And The Republic story makes it clear, Llovera was probably still cockfighting and weirder still is the other ostensible reason for the raid:

Phoenix police went to Llovera's home in February 2011 to investigate a man's claim that Llovera had kidnapped him and held him hostage for four days. Llovera told his own story of being kidnapped and having his pinky chopped off in the desert.

Confronted with differing stories, police didn't pursue the kidnapping case. But they did send the information about the roosters on Llovera's property to the Sheriff's Office.

That resulted in the search warrant that led deputies, with Seagal in tow, to storm Llovera's home. Trombi said the allegations against Llovera justified the sheriff's use of force.

"When SWAT is requested, it's based on previous history surrounding that suspect and that residence. Phoenix police did it with just as many if not more SWAT personnel as we did," [Maricopa County sheriff's Deputy Chief Dave] Trombi said. "We had a legitimate law-enforcement reason to be there, we had a legitimate document, a search warrant, signed by that judge to be at that property. And a year later, we're still in the litigation phase. We're not willing to back down from the charges the county attorney filed based on our investigation."

Maybe they did have a legitimate law-enforcement reason to be there, though they certainly sound unimpressed with the kidnapping allegation. Still, if Llovera was innocent of all charges or just a chicken-abusing creep who never harmed a human, this raid was overkill. And if Llovera turns out to be some scary, kidnapping, serious criminal-gangster person, police should have wondered whether he was armed and then they should have wondered whether surprising Llovera as he slept was the least dangerous method of investigation available. But that wouldn't have made good television. 

Radley Balko on the dangerous mixture of television cameras and police raids; Reason on the militarization of police