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OSF actor sues Jackson County Jail

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A California man who is an Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor has filed an excessive force lawsuit stemming from his April 2019 treatment in a Jackson County Jail drunk tank.

Juan Anthony Sancho, 43, of South Pasadena, California, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Medford alleging that he lost consciousness when a sheriff’s deputy pinned him to the ground with a knee, according to a draft copy of the lawsuit provided to the Mail Tribune by Sancho’s Medford-based lawyers Matthew Rowan and Richard Thierolf Jr.

Sancho, who performs under the stage name “Tony Sancho,” also says that he was kept chained and handcuffed to a drainage grate for more than two hours.

At about 2:30 a.m. April 18, 2019, Ashland police arrested Sancho on a charge of resisting arrest that the Jackson County District Attorney’s office ultimately never prosecuted, according to the lawsuit and Jackson County Circuit Court records.

According to the lawsuit, jail staff kept Sancho handcuffed in a “dry cell” away from other inmates in what’s known as “administrative segregation” because Sancho was “visibly intoxicated” at the time of his arrest.

“There was no furniture, bedding or toilet in his cell,” the lawsuit states. “The only restroom facility in the cell was a metal urine grate embedded in the cell’s concrete floor.”

Sancho was supposed to stay in the cell with his hands cuffed behind his back; however, Sancho “managed to slip his body between his arms to move his cuffed hands to the front of his body” at least two times, according to the lawsuit and Jackson County Jail video released to Sancho’s lawyers.

The lawsuit claims three sheriff’s deputies “forcefully pulled [Sancho] to the concrete floor,” and that one of the three deputies, identified as Deputy David Dalton, subjected Sancho to “multiple knee strikes” in the back.

“The three jailers’ use of physical force against Plaintiff continued to the point that all three were applying their full body weight on [Sancho] ... even though [Sancho] was lying prone on the concrete floor and not struggling,” the lawsuit states.

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

Jail staff allegedly left Sancho “unresponsive” for “approximately 15 seconds” after jailers left the cell.

The lawsuit uses quotes Sheriff Nathan Sickler made to the Mail Tribune last month after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

In the June 3 article, “Local police condemn killing of George Floyd,” Sickler was quoted as saying, “People lying on the ground while handcuffed can die from positional asphyxia,” and “When someone is putting weight on an individual, that’s a really dangerous situation.”

Sickler didn’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but when the Mail Tribune shared video of the incident, he stated, “From what you sent me, I cannot see any positional asphyxia.”

Sickler stated in an email that an officer using their knee to hold someone down is different from “positional asphyxia.”

“Holding someone down temporarily to control them, across their back and shoulders, is much different than kneeling on someone’s neck and restricting their breathing,” Sickler wrote.

Rowan disputed the sheriff’s argument, saying that three deputies “took actions that Sheriff Sickler directly condemned as being ‘contrary to good policing.’”

“We think the video speaks for itself,” Rowan said. “It’s one thing to comment about bad policing half a country away, it’s another thing when you have to deal with it in your own community.”

A message to Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The video further shows corrections deputies chaining Sancho to a urine grate, apparently after Sancho made a third attempt to contort his hands back in front of him.

Sancho was left alone there for “approximately 2.5 hours.”

“Throughout this time, Plaintiff was alone and posed no threat of harm to anyone,” the lawsuit states.

Sancho was ultimately released from the jail at 12:45 p.m. that day. The lawsuit claims that Sancho attempted to go to an urgent care clinic after his release because he was chained to the grate, but urgent refused to see him.

On April 20, Sancho went to Asante Ashland Community Hospital’s emergency room for injuries he sustained at the jail.

X-rays showed a “small joint effusion in his left knee, along with bruises on his left knee, tenderness and swelling over his right hand.

“Plaintiff declined offered pain medication,” the lawsuit states, and Sancho was discharged to go home.

Jackson County Circuit Court records indicate that Sancho was similarly difficult to control in an October Ashland police drunken driving arrest.

The arrest occurred after Sancho reportedly crashed a vehicle shortly after 3:30 a.m. Oct. 28, 2019, in the area of Gresham and East Main streets, leaving the vehicle “disabled” with damage to its bumper, wheel, tire and front end.

“It took three officers and two pair of handcuffs to get Sancho into handcuffs,” according to a court document filed by Ashland police some six months after the incident surrounding Sancho’s lawsuit.

In March, Sancho entered a diversion program on driving under the influence of intoxicants charges, for which he enrolled in a three-month treatment program as of June 9 in Pasadena, according to court documents filed in that case.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Juan Anthony Sancho, who performs under the stage name Tony Sancho, played the role of Martín Jodes, center, in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of "Mother Road." OSF file photo.
A Jackson County Sheriff's deputy knees Juan Anthony Sancho on April 18, 2019. Sheriff Nathan Sickler states the hold is not the "positional asphyxia" he condemned after George Floyd's death in Minnesota. Photo filed in U.S. District Court in Medford.