Groups trying to unseal court records they say could shine light on Jackson County Jail misconduct

By Roman Battaglia (Jefferson Public Radio)
Nov. 29, 2023 1:43 a.m.
The Jackson County Jail in Medford.

The Jackson County Jail in Medford.

Jackson County

A group of criminal justice nonprofits is trying to unseal court records that they say could shine a light on misconduct at the Jackson County Jail. The lawsuit involves a former actor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

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The ACLU of Oregon and the Oregon Justice Resource Center are intervening in a case brought forward by Juan Anthony Sancho. The former OSF actor is suing Jackson County for alleged mistreatment he experienced at the county jail in 2019.

According to the lawsuit, Sancho was arrested by Ashland police officers on April 18, 2019 and brought to the county jail. He was placed in an isolated cell with no window, furniture, bedding or toilet. Sancho’s lawyers allege that jail deputies used excessive force when pinning Sancho to the ground and handcuffing him to a grate in the floor, where he was left for around 2.5 hours.

The two groups are trying to get court records related to Sancho’s case unsealed, which could in turn include information about how the county investigates and deals with overall misconduct that happens at the jail.

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“How they’re investigated, what the consequences are for individual officers. And what steps the jail is taking to change policies to ensure these things don’t happen again,” said Lauren Bonds, executive director of the National Police Accountability Project. Bonds, who is based in Kansas City, is also a lawyer representing the nonprofits in their request.

She said it’s not uncommon for so-called ‘protective orders’ to be used in court, but they’re typically very specific and narrow. Protective orders restrict the public’s access to discovery records, typically when such information contains personal information that could embarrass, annoy or cause an undue burden on individuals. In this case, Bonds said the order filed by the county is too broad and hides information that the public might want to see.

Jackson County attorneys declined to comment for this story.

The protective order filed by the county protects the personnel files of each of the deputies in the case, internal affairs investigations, disciplinary records and claims or complaints.

Bonds said similar records in past lawsuits involving the Jackson County Jail have remained sealed.

“There have been serious concerns about how the jail handled these complaints and allegations when they were raised or when these plaintiffs in these cases filed a complaint,” said Bonds.

The legal groups filed a motion to intervene in early November, which was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Mark D. Clarke, according to Bonds. She said they then plan on filing a motion to unseal the records in the next few weeks.

Bonds expects a decision on this request to come early next year. She said these types of court challenges are usually successful.

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