A man who was an actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is suing for damages incurred during his incarceration in a Jackson County Jail after being arrested on a charge of resisting arrest.
Juan Anthony Sancho, 44 — who usually lives in South Pasadena, California when he’s not in Ashland, Oregon performing — has filed an excessive force lawsuit after an incident in April.
Sancho, who performs using the stage name “Tony Sancho,” alleges that he lost consciousness when a sheriff’s deputy pinned him to the ground with a knee in the jail’s drunk tank, an unfurnished cell with only a drain opening in the center of the space that is reserved for urination.
His suit alleges that he was held handcuffed and chained to the filthy drainage grate for over two hours after being arrested on charges that were ultimately dropped by the Jackson County District Attorney’s office.
Sancho’s lawsuit states that he was kept shackled alone in a “dry cell” in what’s called “administrative segregation” on account of his visible intoxication at the time of his arrest.
“There was no furniture, bedding or toilet in his cell,” according to the lawsuit. “The only restroom facility in the cell was a metal urine grate embedded in the cell’s concrete floor.”
While his jailers had handcuffed Sancho with his arms behind his back, he somehow “managed to slip his body between his arms to move his cuffed hands to the front of his body” at least twice, according to the lawsuit and the surveillance video from the Jackson County Jail that was released to Sancho’s lawyers.
Three sheriff’s deputies noticed what Sancho had done and “forcefully pulled [Sancho] to the concrete floor,” according to the lawsuit. One of the three deputies, identified as David Dalton, subjected Sancho to “multiple knee strikes” in the back, the complaint alleges.
“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.
The actions caused Sancho to briefly lost consciousness “from these jailers kneeling on Plaintiff’s neck and pinning him to the concrete floor.” The lawsuit claims that the deputies left Sancho “unresponsive” for “approximately 15 seconds” after they left the cell.
Ironically, the lawsuit uses the words of Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis using similar restraint methods against the department’s use of force.
Sickler had told the Mail Tribune while criticizing the killing of Floyd that:
“People lying on the ground while handcuffed can die from positional asphyxia,” and also that “When someone is putting weight on an individual, that’s a really dangerous situation.”
Sickler declined to comment on the lawsuit but after viewing surveillance video of the incident he told the Mail Tribune that “I cannot see any 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 in an email to the newspaper.
Sancho’s lawyers beg to differ.
One of them said that the three deputies “took actions that Sheriff Sickler directly condemned as being ‘contrary to good policing.’”
“We think the video speaks for itself,” he 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.”
You can judge for yourself by watching the video of the jailhouse incident below.
Original reporting by Nick Morgan at The Mail Tribune.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.