The Harvey Weinstein scandal has finally cast some needed light on sexual harassment and alleged sexual abuse by the men who wield power in Hollywood. We’ve also known for years about widespread sexual abuse by police officers, which is also often driven by power imbalances between the officers and the women they attack.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a point of convergence between these two stories. His name is Steven Seagal.
In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, a number of women have come forward this week with allegations of sexual harassment against the action movie star. Start with TV reporter Lisa Guerrero.
In 1996, Guerrero was a 31-year-old with a few minor roles to her credit (Matlock, Batman Returns ) when her manager, Lorraine Berglund, phoned with exciting news. “They want you to read for the female lead in a Steven Seagal film,” Berglund said, “but the audition is going to be held at his house in Beverly Hills.”
In the mid-’90s, Seagal was a box-office juggernaut, but Guerrero was wary of the offer. The casting agency offered to send a female associate, Shari Rhodes, to accompany Guerrero on the audition. “This was potentially a huge break for me,” Guerrero says, “but there was no way I was going there by myself.”
Upon arrival, Guerrero and Rhodes were greeted by Seagal, who answered the door clad only in a silk robe. He ushered them into a side room, where he sat in an oversized, ornate chair on a platform (“We called it ‘the throne,” says Guerrero) and asked Guerrero to read her scenes. When she finished, Seagal, who was also a producer on the film, Fire Down Below, said, “You’re fantastic! Tell me about yourself.”
“I drove home feeling pretty good about the audition,” Guerrero recalls, “and that same day my manager called. ‘Steven wants to offer you the lead,’ she said, ‘but you have to go back to his home for a private rehearsal tonight.’ ”
According to the Newsweek article linked above, “Inside Edition” is preparing a report that will include similar allegations by multiple women going back decades. One of them was Jenny McCarthy, who says during casting for a Seagal movie in the 1990s, she was taken to a room where she was alone with the actor, at which point he said to her, “So you were [Playboy’s] Playmate of the Year? Take off your dress.”
But you needn’t go back that far. You might remember that for a time, Seagal starred in an A&E reality TV series in which cameras followed him around in his role as a deputy for the Jefferson Parish, La., Sheriff’s Office. That gig ended because of this:
Kayden Nguyen, 23, answered an online Craigslist ad for an executive assistant job at Seagal’s production company in February and was soon on his private jet taking off from Los Angeles, California, bound for New Orleans, Louisiana, the suit said.
“As the jet taxied down the runway, Mr. Seagal turned to Ms. Nguyen and said ‘I’m a family man, and I live with my wife, but she wouldn’t care if you were my lover,’ ” the suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court said.
“Ms. Nguyen decided to take a wait and see attitude,” the suit said.
After Nguyen arrived in New Orleans, “she learned that the job she was expected to perform had nothing to do with being an ‘executive assistant,’ ” it said.
Over the next five days, she was sexually assaulted three times by Seagal at a house “many miles from New Orleans in a remote rural area of Jefferson Parish,” the suit said.
Seagal also kept “two young Russian ‘attendants’ on staff who were available for his sexual needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” it said.
During Nguyen’s first night on the job, Seagal demanded a “massage,” it said.
“He then proceeded to treat Ms. Nguyen as his sex toy.”
The suit gives graphic details of Seagal’s alleged groping and fondling of Nguyen.
Nguyen claimed that when she finally escaped the house, Seagal chased her while pointing a flashlight that he had mounted to a gun. This passage is particularly chilling:
Nguyen claims she was kept against her will for six days at a secluded Louisiana home where Seagal and his family were allegedly staying. When she finally escaped, she claims Seagal chased after her with a “flashlight with a gun attached to it.”
Nguyen’s lawyer, William Waldo, told CBS News’ Crimesider that Nguyen did not call police because she believed they would listen only to Seagal.
“Mr. Seagal is the police,” he said. “She is in a remote area of Jefferson Parish. It is in the middle of nowhere and he is the police.”
Seagal’s lawyer said at the time that the lawsuit was “ridiculous” and “absurd” and accused Nguyen of using illegal drugs. (Apparently if the victim uses illegal drugs, sexual assault isn’t possible.) Nguyen later dropped the suit, although it wasn’t disclosed whether that was the result of a settlement. A Times-Picayune article at the time did note that Seagal’s lawyers “had been trying to resolve the case through private arbitration.” (As we’ve seen with Weinstein, such settlements often come with nondisclosure agreements.) Rather than face an internal-affairs investigation into Nguyen’s claims, Seagal resigned from the Sheriff’s Office.
In fact, Seagal has been accused of similar behavior by too many women to count. He was sued for sexual harassment by another of his assistants in 2001. Multiple women have also accused him of inappropriately asking for or offering sexual massages (sound familiar?), including Blair Robinson, granddaughter of Ray Charles. Robinson was hired as Seagal’s assistant, then quit after her first day when she said it became clear that sexual favors would be part of the job. Another woman accused him of putting his hand down her pants, then refusing to remove it until she screamed. During the filming of Segal’s movie “Out for Justice,” four female staffers quit after alleging sexual harassment, including one “sexual attack.”
One would think that after all of that and the Nguyen suit — which, again, alleged harassment in the course of his job as a sheriff’s deputy — would be enough to end Seagal’s law enforcement ambition for good. Enter Joe Arpaio. The now-former, now-pardoned sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., was apparently undeterred by what happened in Jefferson Parish. In 2011, Arpaio allowed Seagal to join his “posse” (a group of volunteer officers, generally tasked with harassing undocumented immigrants), and the A&E cameras started rolling again, now from Arizona. It was at his stint with Arpaio’s department that Seagal participated in an infamous raid in which an armored vehicle drove through the outer wall and into the living room of a man suspected of raising chickens for cockfighting, and may or may not have shot a puppy. (It’s also disputed whether Seagal was in the armored vehicle when it crashed through the wall.)
Despite the long and sordid history of complaints from women against Seagal, Joe “law and order” Arpaio gave the actor a badge and the authority to detain, arrest and, depending on who you believe, drive armored vehicles into living rooms — and authorized a TV crew to glamorize him as he did it. For a while there, the two were even talking about a bid for the Arizona governor’s mansion. Imagine being a woman and trying to report an incident involving Seagal to Arpaio’s sheriff’s department. Arpaio already had a reputation for ignoring sex abuse cases.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering what Seagal is doing now, in the course of researching this post I happened upon this Reuters item, published just today.
US actor Steven Seagal, famous for playing action roles like a vice squad detective in “Above the Law,” met Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte while on a location scouting trip in Manila.
Video footage released by government channel RTVM showed Seagal animatedly talking to Duterte.
Seagal, 65, was in the Philippines to look for a location for his upcoming movie, which will be “about illegal drugs and other crimes,” a presidential palace statement said . . .
Earlier this week, Seagal said at a news conference in Manila that he didn’t think the Philippines was “a dangerous place.”
“It’s a place that’s up and coming with the new leadership,” the Philippine Star reported him as saying.
Sounds as if Seagal may be fishing for his next law enforcement gig. And why not? He could summarily execute Filipino drug users by day and patronize Manila’s finest brothels by night. And you could watch it all on A&E.