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Mayor calls treatment of OSF actor 'unacceptably cruel'

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg said the treatment of an Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor by the Jackson County Jail staff was ‘unacceptably cruel and inhumane,’ and Ashland City Council agreed with the statement during its Tuesday meeting held via Zoom.

Stromberg’s 169-word statement, read at the start of the council meeting, addressed the behavior of sheriff’s deputies following the arrest of OSF actor Juan Anthony Sancho, 43, of South Pasadena, California, April 18, 2019, an incident that has led to an excessive force lawsuit.

Sancho, who performs under the stage name “Tony Sancho,” alleges that he lost consciousness when a sheriff’s deputy pinned him to the ground with a knee and that he was kept chained and handcuffed to a drainage grate for more than two hours, 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.

Stromberg said he watched video of the incident, released last week, and felt compelled to respond on behalf of the city.

“I personally, as the mayor of this town, felt that I needed to say something about this,” he said. “It was a significant thing that happened. It happened to a member of [OSF], and the videos were really very upsetting and very concerning, and I knew that the community was feeling that way.”

Stromberg’s statement said: “Having now viewed the video of Mr. Sancho’s treatment by sheriff’s deputies in the Jackson County Jail, I am compelled to say it was an unacceptably cruel and inhumane way to treat any citizen.

“That Mr. Sancho is a person of color compounds the harm at a time when the issue of violence against minorities is at a crisis point for our society and system of government. It is a clear demonstration, right here in the Rogue Valley, of the self-examination and reform needed nationwide if we are ever to become who we want to be as a nation.

“To fully understand what led to this travesty and available safeguards against any repeats, I urge the Jackson County commissioners and Sheriff Sickler to engage independent, outside law enforcement experts and individuals from vulnerable populations to review this incident and recommend reform initiatives for the county to consider implementing.

“Our goal in all of Jackson County, including all its jurisdictions, should be race-sensitive, gender-sensitive, social class-sensitive and effective law enforcement.”

After Stromberg finished, City Attorney David Lohman advised the council and other city staffers to avoid making statements about Sancho’s arrest by Ashland police because their comments could be used against the city. That arrest, made at “around 1 a.m.” on the same day Sancho alleges he was mistreated by Jackson County sheriff’s deputies, was previously addressed with a statement released July 29 by Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara.

“And I recognize that this, ‘Cannot comment because of pending litigation’ kind of admonition is frustrating for city officials like yourselves and for the public,” Lohman said. “But it really is a not inconsequential legal consideration that needs to be taken into account.”

Councilor Dennis Slattery agreed, then made a motion for the council to support the statement, which was written by Stromberg and vetted by Lohman. The motion passed unanimously.

“I’m mindful of what our legal council has said here so I won’t say too much, but no one can watch that video without having their heart go out,” Slattery said, “so thank you for writing it; thank you for sending it.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

A Jackson County Sheriff's deputy knees Juan Anthony Sancho April 18, 2019.{ } Photo filed in U.S. District Court in Medford