PHOENIX (AP) — The self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" joined forces this weekend with action movie star Steven Seagal to train volunteer armed posse members to defend Phoenix-area schools against gunmen.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced the controversial plan in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left 27 people dead, including the gunman and 20 first-graders.
The exercise took place Saturday at a closed school site in suburban Fountain Hills, outside Phoenix, where sheriff's SWAT members acted as shooters and teenagers played the part of students during mock scenarios involving up to three gunmen.
Seagal, best known for his roles in movies such as "Above the Law" and "Under Siege," planned to lead training on hand-to-hand defense tactics, among other techniques, drawing from his expertise in martial arts, according to a sheriff's office news release.
Arpaio's office didn't respond to requests for comment Friday and Saturday, and Seagal representatives also did not return telephone messages from The Associated Press.
When faced with criticism in January about the school posse plan, Arpaio snapped back, "Why would people complain about my posse being in front of schools to act as prevention?"
He boldly announced the plan on the grounds of an elementary school, saying at the time he wanted the patrols publicized.
"I want everyone to know about it for the deterrence effect," Arpaio said, adding that no taxpayer money would be spent on the patrols and volunteers will be supervised over the radio or telephone by actual deputies.
Arizona Democratic House Minority Leader Chad Campbell called the plan to use Seagal as an instructor "ludicrous."
"Steve Seagal is an actor. That's it. Why don't we also have Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris and Bruce Willis come out and train them too while we're at it," Campbell said.