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ACLU says it has filed a lawsuit against the City of Ashland

After releasing a statement indicating that it sent a letter to Ashland officials regarding the 2019 arrest of actor Tony Sancho, the ACLU of Oregon said Friday that it has filed suit.

Posted: Apr 16, 2021 4:03 PM
Updated: Apr 16, 2021 5:26 PM

ASHLAND, Ore. — The ACLU says that it has filed a lawsuit against the City of Ashland for the arrest of former Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Tony Sancho in 2019. The organization said in a statement released Thursday that it had given the City a choice — work with Sancho on changes to its policing, or argue the matter in court.

According to a follow-up statement from the ACLU, Ashland "refused that offer" on Friday morning.

“The city’s decision is disappointing but not unexpected. Since the moment Ashland police approached our client walking home from a night out two years ago, they have had the opportunity to do the right thing every step of the way and they continue to choose otherwise," said attorney Matthew Rowan, one of the lawyers representing Sancho. "They have turned what could have been a simple welfare check that night into a traumatic event for Mr. Sancho and his family, and now civil rights litigation.”

The suit was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, naming the City of Ashland, Police Chief Tighe O'Meara, and the four police officers involved in Sancho's arrest.

In April of 2019, Ashland Police officers approached Sancho in downtown Ashland after he left a bar, visibly intoxicated. The ACLU has said that Sancho was only a few blocks from where he was staying, and intended to walk home. After speaking with Sancho for some time, the officers handcuffed him and took him into custody — booking him into the Jackson County Jail.

The City of Ashland declined to prosecute Sancho's case, and the charge under which he was booked, Resisting Arrest, was dropped.

"The city and police department could have been, and still could be, collaborators for true change and accountability in Ashland. But we are happy to pursue justice with the full force of the legal system," said ACLU of Oregon cooperating attorney Christopher Lundberg. "The law is on our side: The Ashland Police Department had no legal basis to arrest Tony Sancho and send him to jail.”

Oregon law prohibits the adoption or enforcement of regulations against public intoxication, drunk and disorderly conduct, and similar charges — driving under the influence representing a notable exception. The ACLU has argued that Sancho's arrest was illegal on these grounds.

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.

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