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OSF Actor Alleges Excessive Use Of Force While Held In Jackson County Jail

A lawsuit filed against Jackson County and several deputies in the sheriff’s office alleges excessive use of force that violated the department’s own policy guidelines was used against a recent Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor while being held in a detox cell at the county jail in April, 2019.

Jail security camera footage shows Juan Anthony Sancho handcuffed in a cell after he was brought to the jail while allegedly intoxicated and under charges of resisting arrest. Sancho moved his handcuffs from his back to his front.

In the footage he taps on the cell door, backs up, and then three officers rush in, aggressively forcing him to the ground, where deputies “delivered multiple knee strikes” and “kneeled on Plaintiff’s upper back and neck,” according to court filings.

According to the court complaint Sancho “briefly lost consciousness from these jailers kneeling on Plaintiff’s neck and pinning him to the concrete floor.”

When Sancho knocked on the door a second time, officers entered the cell and handcuffed him to a urine grate mounted in the floor for two-and-a-half hours.

“The force used by the law enforcement deputies in this particular case grossly exceeded that which would be authorized under the sheriff’s department’s own use of force policies,” says Matthew Rowan, an attorney representing Mr. Sancho.

Sancho was brought to the sheriff’s office while intoxicated in Ashland, according to police. Ashland Police Department officers attempted to put him in non-criminal protective custody to become sober but then charged him with resisting arrest. The charge of resisting arrest was later dropped by the Ashland Police Department, according to Chief Tighe O'Meara.

Sancho, who lives in Pasadena, CA, is suing Jackson County alleging that he was assaulted by sheriff’s deputies and his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated. The court complaint also describes deputies exceeding their own definitions of reasonableness for using force, which include things like “conduct of the individual being confronted,” “subject’s mental state,” and “proximity of weapons.”

Video footage of Sancho shows him in handcuffs, backing up from officers or kneeling on the ground when they enter his cell.

Neither Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler or Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton responded to requests for comment.

Anthony (Tony) Sancho acted in several Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions in 2019 including Mother Road and La Comedia of Errors. OSF Artistic Director Nataki Garrett responded to his lawsuit with the following statement:

“My husband and I have known [Tony Sancho] for many years as a family man, and artistic community member of upstanding character. I’m personally horrified by the inhumane treatment of Tony exhibited in the video.”

The lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in Medford.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.