In revised lawsuit, ACLU removes language seeking changes to APD's force tactics

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Oct. 14—A new version of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit surrounding the 2019 arrest of then-Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Juan Anthony "Tony" Sancho has removed language seeking to "compel the Ashland Police Department to rethink its use-of-force tactics."

Sancho's amended lawsuit filed Monday in Jackson County Circuit Court against the city of Ashland largely makes the same claims surrounding his arrest on a misdemeanor charge that was never prosecuted — arguing that his arrest was unlawful because there was no accompanying crime alongside a resisting arrest charge that resulted in Sancho being detained at the jail for more than nine hours.

According to ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Kelly Simon, the changes to its $2 million lawsuit were only to avoid "unnecessary fights" surrounding language in the first paragraph.

"Nothing has substantively changed in the case," Simon said. "Hopefully justice for Tony will no longer be delayed."

What's been taken out, however, are dramatic statements in the lawsuit's intro surrounding Sancho's "horrifyingly tragic interaction with Ashland's Police Department," a claim that Sancho was "not the only person of color who has been mistreated" by the department, and calls to action at the police department that went beyond monetary compensation.

"Plaintiff (Sancho) is not the only person of color who has been mistreated by the Ashland Police Department; consequently, in addition to monetary damages for the severe emotional distress that plaintiff suffered, plaintiff seeks to compel the Ashland Police Department to re-think its use-of-force tactics and build compassion, rather than blind coercion, into genuine community-oriented training and tactics around civilian interactions arising from non-criminal and/or non-violent conduct," the earlier version of the lawsuit stated.

Simon said that despite removing the statements, the ACLU of Oregon still wants to see changes.

"We just took that out to avoid unnecessary fights and focus on the heart of the case, which is the violation of Tony's rights," Simon said. "We're not interested in wasting Ashland's resources here."

Simon said she believes the city of Ashland's police training and general practices are "constitutionally deficient."

Sancho, who acts under the stage name Tony Sancho and had a starring role in OSF's production of "Mother Road" during the 2019 season, is separately suing Jackson County in U.S. District Court in Medford for $706,000 surrounding alleged mistreatment at the Jackson County Jail — bolstered by jail surveillance footage and stills — including two hours handcuffed to a floor grate in a jail cell. The ACLU is not listed as one of the lawyers representing Sancho in his lawsuit against the jail.

Sancho was arrested after 1 a.m. April 18, 2019, when police found him him too intoxicated to care for himself in the area of East Main and South Pioneer streets. Ashland police Chief Tighe O'Meara previously stated he asked the District Attorney's office not to press charges for resisting arrest.

Simon argued that her client should never have been in police custody.

"Tony wasn't engaged in a crime here," Simon said. "There's no reason why the police and the jail needed to be involved."

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.

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