On July 28, a former actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (“OSF”) filed a lawsuit against Jackson County and three sheriff’s deputies, alleging excessive use of force when he was placed in a jail cell and pinned to a floor grate and chained by the neck after a minor run-in with police.
Juan A. “Tony” Sancho, 41, found himself under arrest on April 18, 2019, by Ashland law enforcement. The actor had appeared in that year’s OSF productions of a bilingual version of “The Comedy of Errors” and a play called “Mother Road”.
No Criminal Record
Sancho had no criminal record. On the night in question, Sancho was walking home down Main Street in the company of some colleagues. He appeared to have been drinking. The police received an anonymous call at 1 a.m. stating a person was passed out in the area.
When police arrived, they claim Sancho was “mobile, but very intoxicated” and moving back and forth between the street and the sidewalk. He was unable to provide officers with information about his home or whether there was a responsible adult who could care for him. They determined he could not take care of himself and told him they were bringing him to a detox facility. According to the police, Sancho agreed.
However, an officer informed Sancho that he required handcuffing if he was taken to the facility, and he calmly resisted such handcuffing. At that point, the officers took him into custody for resisting arrest and brought him to the Jackson County Jail. No other charge was lodged against him.
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara submitted a report to the mayor and council about the incident, noting that he personally asked the Jackson County District Attorney not to file the charge of resisting arrest. The DA complied. He notes the Ashland police had nothing more to do with Sancho once he was delivered to the Jackson County Jail. That was when Sancho’s nightmare really began.
The Ashland officers were wearing body cameras, and the video contradicts much of what they allege occurred. For example, Sancho told officers he only lived two blocks away and provided his address.
Video from the jail reveals what happened once Sancho arrived. According to his lawsuit, although his hands were cuffed behind his back, once in his cell, he was able to move his hands in front of him so he could urinate. He then got the jailer’s attention by knocking on the cell, and the deputies entered the cell to put his hands behind him again.
Sancho then moved his arms back to the front of his body and knocked again to notify the deputies. He had his back against the rear wall of the cell. His lawyer says Sancho had no idea why he was in jail and simply wanted his questions answered.
Forced to the Ground and Kneed
The video reveals that three deputies then entered the cell, grabbed Sancho, and forced him to the ground. One deputy knees him several times on the back and sides. Another deputy puts his knee on Sancho’s neck and back for nearly a full 60 seconds. Sancho does not put up a fight and eventually goes limp. His lawyer later noted these are the same tactics used on George Floyd by police.
A female jailer unidentified in the lawsuit enters the cell briefly. Sancho is then handcuffed again behind his back, and the deputy continues to hold him down by his knee. The deputies then leave. Sancho is left handcuffed and lying on his abdomen.
He quickly arises and starts banging on the cell door, which he does for two minutes. Two deputies enter and force him back down on the floor, then handcuff him to a metal grate. Liquid human waste flows under the grate. He remains fastened to the grate for 2.5 hours. No one came to check on him.
As his lawsuit states, during this time Sancho posed no threat to anyone. The Jackson County Sherriff has so far declined to comment.
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