A former Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor, Juan “Tony” Sancho, has filed a federal lawsuit accusing three sheriff’s deputies of placing a knee on his neck while handcuffing him to a floor grate where he was forced to lie in his own urine for two-and-a-half hours.
Jackson County sheriff’s deputy Brady Bjorkland is accused of placing his knee on Sancho’s neck for around a minute while deputies David Dalton and Michael Hammond handcuffed him to the floor grate.
The arrest took place on April 18, 2019 when Sancho was walking home alone from a social event with other actors when he was stopped by Ashland police, according to his lawyer, Matthew Rowan.
The Ashland officer told Sancho they suspected him of being under the influence and were going to take him to detox.
According to Rowan:
“HE WAS NOT PASSED OUT. HE WAS NOT INCAPACITATED, NOTHING THAT WOULD GIVE CAUSE, I BELIEVE, FOR A REASONABLE OFFICER TO THINK SOMEBODY NEEDED TO BE TAKEN TO DETOX.”
Though it is unclear to why Sancho was charged with resisting arrest, he was taken to Jackson County Jail in Medford instead of detox.
Prison cell footage published by The Oregonian backs up Sancho’s claims of being brutalized by the officers.
Sancho managed to move his handcuffed hands from behind his back to the front of his body, then knocked on the cell door to inform the guards he needed to urinate, according to the lawsuit.
The video shows the guards entering the cell and moving Sancho’s cuffed hands back to their original position behind his back.
Once more, Sancho put his cuffed hands in front of him. The jail footage, which has no sound, shows what happens next.
Sancho begins knocking on the door, trying to get the guards attention again because he was confused on why he was being detained.
“He didn’t know why he was in jail. Nobody would tell him,” Rowan said.
He steps back, barefoot, with his palms opened and appears to be saying something to an officer on the other side of the closed cell door.
Footage shows Sancho, already backed up to the wall, getting rushed by Bjorkland, Dalton and Hammond. The officers grab Sancho and force him to the ground.
As Sancho is laying on the ground, Dalton knees Sancho’s side and back multiple times, according to the video.
Meanwhile, Bjorkland places his knee on Sancho’s neck and upper back for nearly a minute.
During the whole time, Sancho does not appear to be resisting and at one point, Sancho’s body appears to go limp.
A fourth deputy is also seen in the video putting on disposable gloves and laughing. She is not identified in the lawsuit.
The officers cuff Sancho again behind his back. As Hammond starts to stand, Bjorkland places his knee on Sancho’s upper back again.
The first interaction lasts two minutes and 11 seconds.
Around a minute later, Sancho gets up and begins to knock on the cell door again. This time with the cuffs still behind his back. The knocking lasts for nearly two minutes.
After getting the guards’ attention, he backs away from the door into the center of the room and kneels.
Hammond and Bjorkland enter the cell and force Sancho back on the floor and handcuff him to the metal grate.
Sancho’s urine can be seen sloshing around, according to Rowan.
He remained locked to the grate for two-and-a-half hours, according to the lawsuit.
Sancho received bruises on the wrist, knee and elbow, the suit says.
The sheriff’s department released a statement, according to Kobi5:
“WE TAKE ALL ALLEGATIONS OF IMPROPER USE OF FORCE SERIOUSLY AND REVIEW THEM. BECAUSE THERE IS PENDING LITIGATION WE CAN’T FURTHER COMMENT.”
Bjorkland completed corrections officers basic training in 2018. Dalton and Hammond have both been with the Sheriff’s Office for 22 years.
Rowan compared the restraint tactics Jackson County prison guards used to those used during the arrest of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
“What happened to George Floyd was awful. What happened to my client was awful,” Rowan said. “I would note that in my client’s case, he was actually in jail by himself and secured. In this particular case, law enforcement goes in to pick a fight with him.”
The resisting arrest charge was eventually dropped, according to Ashland city records. Read the lawsuit here.