ASHLAND, ORE – Today, the ACLU of Oregon gave the City of Ashland two options to address the illegal arrest of actor Juan Anthony Sancho: Agree to work with us and Mr. Sancho on concrete changes to the Ashland Police Department so no one else faces what he faced, or answer for the abusive and illegal tactics in court.
In April 2019, Tony Sancho was stopped by Ashland police officers on his way home from a downtown Ashland bar, where he had been enjoying the company of his Oregon Shakespeare Festival colleagues. He had been drinking and decided to walk home to be safe, but that night his sense of safety was stolen. As he was walking home, Ashland police officers stopped him and transformed what was essentially a welfare check into an unnecessarily coercive and traumatic event. Rather than helping Tony, officers ultimately grabbed him, cuffed him, forced him into their vehicle, and took him to the Jackson County Jail in Medford. The nightmare continued in the jail where guards tortured him throughout the night, chaining him to a urine grate and beating him (a separate lawsuit against the county for his treatment in jail was filed earlier last year).
“Mr. Sancho’s case is important to him and the broader Ashland community because it involves a significant public concern generating much national and local discussion – namely, re-thinking police work,” ACLU of Oregon cooperating attorney Christopher Lundberg said in a letter to the city. “Mr. Sancho wanted to give the City an opportunity to have a serious discussion about resolution before engaging in full-scale litigation.”
Lundberg also sent the City a draft of the complaint that will be filed in the Jackson County Circuit Court should the city refuse to sign a tolling agreement, which would extend the statute of limitations to file the lawsuit and allow time for the city and Mr. Sancho to have that discussion. The yet-to-be-filed complaint alleges false arrest, unconstitutional practices and policies, and a failure to train against the City of Ashland, the four officers involved in arresting Sancho, and Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara.
Oregon law prohibits police officers from arresting people for being drunk in public. The law gives officers discretion to take a person home or to a sobering facility, but not jail. Ashland police plainly violated the law. And because there was no criminal nexus for the arrest, they violated the United States and Oregon constitutions, too. Their escalation was not only illegal, it was entirely unnecessary. Tony was just a couple blocks from home.
“Every day, the trauma comes up. Something comes up,” Tony Sancho said. “I’m working to hold police accountable for their actions because this shouldn’t happen to people. No one should be treated the way I was.”
Sancho is represented by Kelly Simon of ACLU of Oregon; Christopher Lundberg of Haglund Kelly, LLP; Richard Thierolf of Jacobson, Thierolf & Dickey, PC; and Matthew Rowan of Collins Rowan, LLP. Thierolf and Rowan also represent Sancho in a separate case against the county for the abuses he suffered in the Jackson County Jail following the illegal arrest by Ashland police.
“We are saying enough. Enough,” said Khanisha Foster, Tony Sancho’s wife “You shouldn’t go to do a play in a beautiful town and come back destroyed and devoured.”
While the 2020 police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor brought nationwide attention to the systemic racism and violence in American policing, Sancho’s traumatic night occurred more than a year before the 2020 protests erupted.
The ACLU of Oregon has been reaching out to community members to listen and learn about reforms needed to address the deep-rooted system issues in Ashland. So far, the ACLU of Oregon has heard that Sancho’s arrest was one of many recent events in Ashland that have galvanized the community around racial justice and police accountability. Conversations about the way Ashland police treat BIPOC actors, students and community members, are generating creative new thinking about how everyone in the community can be safe and supported. The ACLU of Oregon looks forward to supporting local organizing efforts as we fight for justice for Tony Sancho.
ACLU of Oregon Interim Legal Director Kelly Simon: “Tony’s unlawful arrest and horrific treatment is yet another in a litany of stories showing us exactly why our public safety models need to shift away from the command and control response of police and toward community-based responses that prioritize compassion and care. And while we work to build new public safety systems, we must remain vigilant in holding police accountable for the unnecessary engagements, unfair treatment, and senseless escalation to violence in their encounters with people of color, especially Black and brown people.”