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ACLU sues Ashland over actor’s arrest

Deputies Michael Hammond and Brady Bjorkland walk away from Juan Anthony "Tony" Sancho after chaining him to a grate in a Jackson County Jail dry cell. Sancho filed a lawsuit surrounding his treatment at the jail earlier this week. Photo filed in U.S. District Court in Medford

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a $2 million lawsuit against Ashland police, saying the April 2019 arrest that preceded an OSF stage actor’s alleged mistreatment at the Jackson County Jail was not a legal arrest.

An ACLU of Oregon lawyer and a Portland lawyer cooperating with the ACLU have joined the legal team representing Juan Anthony Sancho, who acts under the stage name Tony Sancho.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court, states that the actor, who then had a lead role in an Oregon Shakespeare Festival production, “was not committing a crime, and was increasingly terrified by the officers’ escalation of force.”

Sancho has separately filed a lawsuit seeking $706,000 in damages from Jackson County surrounding claims, bolstered by jail surveillance video, that corrections deputies knelt on Sancho’s back and handcuffed him to a floor grate for more than two hours following a 2019 arrest by Ashland police on a charge of resisting arrest that was never prosecuted.

One day prior to filing the lawsuit, Portland lawyer Christopher Lundberg, cooperating with ACLU of Oregon staff attorney Kelly Simon, served a letter to the Ashland city attorney’s office and sought to have a “serious discussion” with the city, but an ACLU spokesperson said the city “declined our offer.”

The ACLU gave Ashland City Attorney David Lohman until noon Friday to sign a document extending the two-year statute of limitations “to allow time for that discussion.”

Medford lawyer Thomas Armosino, representing the city, replied in an email, “we have no comment in light of the threatened litigation.”

Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara referred all comment about the case to the city attorney’s office; however, he spoke publicly about the April arrest of Sancho in a July memo and provided bodycam video of the arrest.

Sancho was arrested at about 1 a.m. April 18, 2019, near the corner of Pioneer and East Main streets. Ashland police had responded to a report of a person down and found Sancho “mobile but very intoxicated,” according to the memo.

Police tried to take Sancho into “protective custody” because he was too intoxicated to care for himself, but Sancho refused to be handcuffed, O’Meara stated at the time. Officers arrested him on a charge of resisting arrest, but O’Meara asked the Jackson County DA’s office not to file charges.

"I did this not because I felt the charge was unwarranted, but rather because I thought that an important ongoing dialogue and relationship-building effort would be ill-served by pursuing this prosecution," O'Meara stated at the time.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.