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ACLU delivers ultimatum to City of Ashland over treatment of former OSF actor

Tony Sancho filed a lawsuit against the Jackson County Sheriff's Office in July of 2020, alleging excessive force from jail staff after he was arrested in Ashland.

Posted: Apr 15, 2021 7:11 PM
Updated: Apr 15, 2021 7:15 PM

ASHLAND, Ore. — The ACLU of Oregon on Thursday released a statement saying that it has delivered an ultimatum to the City of Ashland for the treatment that former Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Juan Anthony "Tony" Sancho received when he was arrested in April of 2019.

According to the ACLU's narrative, Sancho was stopped by Ashland Police officers on his way home from a bar in downtown Ashland during April of 2019. The officers cuffed Sancho and put him in a police vehicle before transporting him to the Jackson County Jail.

In body cam footage of the incident, APD officers indicated that they had approached Sancho because he was visibly intoxicated. After speaking with Sancho for some time, one of the officers concluded that there was "no other place" for them to take him but to "detox" at the jail.

"You're a little too drunk to be caring for yourself," said one of the officers. "You were falling over on the street, and I don't want to see you get hit by a car . . . my goal was to hopefully, if you had friends out and about who were sober, they'd come take care of you. But if you don't have your phone on you or anything, basically I'm going to have to take you to detox."

Sancho pleaded with the officers not to take him into custody and struggled to keep his hands free when they started putting him into handcuffs.

"I'm not going to relax, because I'm a brown man in this situation," Sancho said when the officers told him to 'relax,' gripping his wrists.

Sancho sued the Jackson County Sheriff's Office last July, alleging that he was subjected to excessive force by Jackson County Jail staff in a cell following his arrest in Ashland. A video of three JCSO officers forcibly subduing Sancho and attaching his handcuffs to the urine grate of his cell was released by Sancho's attorney at the time.

Ultimately, no charges were filed against Sancho in spite of his stay at the jail. He was initially booked for Resisting Arrest.

In its statement, the ACLU said that it would give the City of Ashland two options — either work with them and Sancho on changes to the Ashland Police Department "so no one else faces what he faced," or go to court.

"Mr. Sancho’s case is important to him and the broader Ashland community because it involves a significant public concern generating much national and local discussion – namely, re-thinking police work,” ACLU of Oregon cooperating attorney Christopher Lundberg said in a letter to the city. “Mr. Sancho wanted to give the City an opportunity to have a serious discussion about resolution before engaging in full-scale litigation.”

The ACLU indicated that it sent the City a draft version of the lawsuit, yet-to-be-filed, alleging false arrest, unconstitutional practices and policies, and a "failure to train" against the City, the four officers involved, and Police Chief Tighe O'Meara.

According to the ACLU, Oregon law does not allow police officers to arrest people for being drunk in public. It will allow officers to take someone home or to a sobering facility, but not to jail.

“Every day, the trauma comes up. Something comes up,” Sancho said in the statement. “I’m working to hold police accountable for their actions because this shouldn’t happen to people. No one should be treated the way I was.”

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