A man wears a tan suit with a flower pinned to his lapel and smiles at the camera, at what appears to be a formal attire outdoor event. Behind him, people dressed in nice clothes walk on a grassy lawn between tents and awnings.

Juan Anthony Sancho lives in Pasadena. Sancho acted in several Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions in 2019, including "Mother Road" and "La Comedia of Errors." He's suing the city of Ashland over what he alleges was an illegal arrest in April 2019.

ACLU of Oregon

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the city of Ashland, alleging that local police illegally arrested a former actor in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

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The ACLU filed the complaint on behalf of Juan Anthony Sancho. The actor was arrested and jailed by Ashland police two years ago while walking home after an evening of drinking in a downtown bar.

Ashland police initially stopped him to take him into custody to sober up. But according to an ACLU press release, “After questioning Sancho, officers appear in [a] video to become frustrated, telling Sancho to ‘shut up’ and ‘you’re going to go to jail,’ escalating what should have been a simple welfare check into an aggressive arrest.”

Police arrested Sancho for resisting arrest. The charge was later dropped.

Kelly Simon, an attorney representing Sancho, said she hopes the lawsuit will lead to reform in Ashland’s policing policies.

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“One thing that Tony’s story is indicative of is that it is past time for us to come up with a public safety system that moves away from the command and control approach that comes with the police and towards community based responses that lead with compassion and care,” Simon said.

On April 15, Sancho offered to have a conversation with Ashland city officials to discuss how to resolve the arrest before moving forward with litigation. The city declined the offer the following morning.

Sancho filed a separate lawsuit against Jackson County and several sheriff’s deputies last July, following the 2019 night spent in Jackson County Jail. Jail cell video shows officers wrestling Sancho to the ground and kneeling on his back and neck, reportedly causing him to go unconscious. The officers later handcuffed him to a urine grate on the cell floor for over two hours.

Related: ‘I’m a brown man in this situation’: Shakespeare Festival actor files excessive force lawsuit after arrest

Simon said this incident, and Sancho being detained without a legal explanation, both exemplify why many people of color feel unsafe interacting with police.

“Even if officers were engaging with Tony to perform a welfare check, he never should have ended up in jail,” Simon said. “He never should have been under arrest. Tony should have been helped safely home that night.”

Sancho’s arrest and the subsequent fallout comes at a time when cities across the nation have urged officials to rethink public safety strategies, particularly following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The ACLU said this lawsuit is the beginning of an effort to address deeply rooted flaws in Oregon law enforcement.

Officials with the city of Ashland declined to comment.

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