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Ashland police chief sought to dismiss charges against OSF actor

Jackson County intends to fight a former Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor’s lawsuit filed against the Jackson County Jail, saying corrections deputies were justified in the force they used, and that the actor brought it on himself.

The county last week filed its first formal response to a lawsuit filed in July by Juan Anthony Sancho of South Pasadena, California, who had starring roles in OSF productions under the stage name Tony Sancho.

The actor alleged that deputies used excessive force that required him to seek medical attention when he was held in a dry cell or “drunk tank” in the spring of 2019.

The county’s response, filed Sept. 30, says the county intends to argue that sheriff’s deputies David Dalton, Brady Bjorkland and Michael Hammond have qualified immunity, that the force they used was “justified and reasonable under the circumstances,” and that the use of force was “believed to be necessary” to defend the deputies “from the use or imminent use of physical force and/or damage to county property.”

Sancho said he lost consciousness for short periods of time while the deputies forced him down to the concrete floor of the holding cell and kneed him in the back, and that he suffered bruises and a minor knee injury after being handcuffed and chained to a urine grate for about 2-1/2 hours, according to news reports. Sancho’s lawsuit cites surveillance photos, and his legal team released video of his treatment in jail to the media after the lawsuit was filed.

The video drew condemnation from Ashland Mayor John Stromberg, who called the treatment “unacceptably cruel and inhumane.”

Although Ashland police arrested Sancho, they are not named as a defendant in Sancho’s lawsuit because the police department was not involved in the actor’s treatment at the jail.

Police arrested Sancho shortly after 1 a.m. April 18, 2019, after finding him too intoxicated to care for himself. Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara previously stated he asked the District Attorney’s office not to press charges on a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.

The county claims Sancho’s “own negligence” was responsible for his injuries in six particular ways: that Sancho failed to follow Ashland police instructions; that he resisted Ashland police arrest; that he failed to follow jail deputies’ instructions; that Sancho slipped his handcuffs from back to front; that Sancho violated disorderly conduct laws and refused to comply with police under state public intoxication laws; and that Sancho struck “jail property, including a window, with his handcuffs.”

The county seeks to argue that Sancho acted in bad faith under the “doctrine of unclean hands.”

“This includes, but is not limited to, interference with a peace officer and/or disrupting order and discipline in a correctional institution,” Sr. Assistant Jackson County Counsel Johan Pietila wrote.

Sancho’s lawyer, Matthew Rowan, declined to comment on the county filing beyond calling the county’s responses “routine affirmative defenses,” and that his office will not need to file a formal response to the county’s arguments.

Next steps in the lawsuit, according to court records, include a deadline of Nov. 27 for all filings related to evidence and pretrial scheduling. Any counter motions stemming from those filings will be due by Dec. 28.

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

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.