Jeralynn and Adam Blueford in 2012 protesting for the release of police records after their son Alan was killed by police officer Miguel Masso. Credit: Ali Winston

Nine years ago, 18-year-old Alan Dwayne Blueford, a student at Skyline High School, was shot and killed by Oakland police officer Miguel Masso. The shooting shook Oakland—a city aching from the fallout of Oscar Grant’s killing three years earlier by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer—and it would remain a flashpoint for years, with Blueford’s family and supporters demanding answers at City Council meetings and calling for Masso to be fired and prosecuted.

While responding to a call for backup in an unrelated matter, Masso saw Blueford and two other young men walking down the street in a deep East Oakland neighborhood, decided they looked suspicious, chased Blueford for several blocks, and shot him three times. It was widely reported that Masso was cleared of wrongdoing after Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley published a report explaining why her office believed there wasn’t sufficient evidence to file criminal charges. Blueford’s family filed a civil rights lawsuit against OPD, settling for $110,000 in 2014, but the city and the officers never admitted fault. 

Masso left OPD in 2015 for Hollister, a small city in San Benito County, where he was hired by the police department. He retired from that agency in September 2020, citing a recurring back injury and a hostile national climate to law enforcement. Last year, Hollister Interim Police Chief Carlos Reynoso defended Masso’s record in the local press after Masso faced allegations of brutality during a traffic stop, a civil rights lawsuit over alleged excessive force in another incident, and local residents circulated a petition calling on the city to fire him. The Blueford shooting back in Oakland resurfaced in the swirl of criticism around Masso. Reynoso dismissed concerns, saying, “Sometimes the truth just doesn’t matter when people have an agenda.”

But the public—and Blueford’s family—were never told the full truth about what happened the night Blueford was killed.

We filed requests for investigative and disciplinary records for Masso in 2019. Our request went nowhere, and the city failed to release the records within deadline. We then filed a Public Records Act lawsuit last year for more than thirty open CPRA requests. As part of this lawsuit, we recently obtained previously confidential personnel records for Masso and his partner, Joseph Fesmire. These documents—which represent a fraction of what we asked to review—reveal for the first time that the tactics the two officers used leading up to and during the killing of Blueford were serious violations of OPD regulations. Fesmire and Masso’s actions were problematic enough that then-Police Chief Sean Whent suspended both officers.

“They never told us,” Alan’s father Adam Blueford said last week upon learning from The Oaklandside that the city suspended Masso and Fesmire in relation to his son’s killing.

Until very recently, both officers’ personnel records were confidential under a California law that helped ensure police misconduct files—including records of thousands of fatal shootings, beatings, acts of dishonesty, and sexual assault in agencies across the state—were kept secret for decades. Senate Bill 1421 changed this. When the law went into effect on January 1, 2019, Oakland, like other California cities, was required to disclose older records regarding police shootings, including the Blueford files. However, Oakland continues to withhold records for dozens of police misconduct cases, including over a dozen lethal and nonlethal police shootings, some dating back to the early 2000s. 

Jeralynn Blueford, Alan’s mother, said the family met a few times with city officials in the year after the shooting but were never informed about the results of OPD’s internal investigation. Once the Bluefords filed their wrongful death lawsuit, the city fought them and withheld as much information as it could.

“You know that I’ve been trying to get those records for almost nine years,” said Jeralynn last week.

Masso left the Hollister Police Department last fall. We attempted to locate him through a public records search, but he did not turn up. We attempted to contact him through a social media account that may be his; no one responded. We were also unable to locate him through his last known employer; Hollister PD did not respond to our request for comment. 

Failure to radio in a stop, inactive body cameras, and an improper foot chase

The chain of events leading to Blueford’s death started with a nighttime stop-and-frisk encounter in deep East Oakland initiated by Fesmire and Masso. At the time, the pair led the department in firearms recoveries, having taken between 20 and 30 guns off the streets in the six months leading up to the shooting, according to OPD records

In the early hours of May 6, 2012, Masso and Fesmire were driving to 85th Avenue and Holly Street to provide cover for other officers responding to a fight when they spotted Blueford walking along 90th Avenue between Birch and Olive Streets with two other Black men. Although the three young men had no apparent connection with the fight the officers were responding to, Masso and Fesmire decided to slow down and scrutinize them.

“We stopped there for a brief moment, and we looked at them,” Masso told OPD investigators two days after the shooting. “The male Black in the gray hoodie, I made eye contact with him and he looked a little suspicious by his behavior, the way he was walking and he wouldn’t look at me,” Masso said about one of the people with Blueford.

After seeing two members of Blueford’s group exchange an object the officers said they suspected was a gun, Masso and Fesmire pulled over and detained the three young men, sitting them on the curb. Later, the young man in the “gray hoodie” would tell police that Blueford had approached him and his 15-year-old cousin just a few moments before the police officers showed up. They had discussed buying cannabis from Blueford but otherwise didn’t know each other. Blueford, a senior at Skyline High who was living in Tracy at the time, had come to Oakland that night to watch the Miguel Cotto-Floyd Mayweather Jr. prizefight at a friend’s house.

Blueford sat on the curb for a moment but then got up and ran from the police. Masso sprinted after him, drawing his gun when he saw Blueford’s hands grasp at his waist while running. According to Masso, Blueford whirled around and the officer opened fire, claiming the teenager pointed a pistol at him. Masso fired four times, striking Blueford with three rounds and shooting himself in the foot with the fourth. 

Blueford was pronounced dead twenty minutes after midnight. A black semiautomatic pistol with Blueford’s partial left thumbprint on the ammunition magazine was found in a driveway roughly 20 feet from his body.

As with all officer-involved shootings, OPD internal affairs investigated the case by interviewing the officers, witnesses, and examining all of the available evidence. 

According to the newly disclosed records, internal investigators determined that Masso violated OPD policy several times over, by failing to inform OPD dispatchers that he and Fesmire were engaging in a walking stop or chase, failing to turn on his body-worn camera while pursuing Blueford, and by using “improper tactics” as he was running after the 18-year-old. 

“Masso should have tried to contain Blueford in a perimeter and utilized additional officers to capture instead of attempting to capture him by himself,” Lt. Freddie Hamilton wrote in conclusion to Masso’s Skelly hearing, a meeting where Masso was allowed to defend himself against these findings. Masso and Fesmire had created a more dangerous situation for themselves and other officers by stopping and chasing Blueford. They abandoned the call they had been on their way to report to as backup to stop the three young men without notifying dispatchers. Lastly, Masso had ignored his training, which required him to keep his distance from an armed suspect during a foot chase and call in other police to create a perimeter to make the arrest. 

Masso’s suspension over the Blueford shooting was not his first write-up for misconduct in Oakland. He was found to have violated the department’s rules on one prior occasion, according to the Skelly letter finalizing the Blueford discipline, but the records don’t explain the details of that case. Previously, the only known indicator of Masso’s performance at OPD were the awards he received for high numbers of gun arrests in East Oakland.

Fesmire, Masso’s partner that night, was also disciplined by OPD for failing to activate his body camera, and for failing to inform OPD’s communications section over the radio that he and Masso had stopped Blueford and his two friends, and that Masso had gotten into a foot pursuit. Fesmire left OPD in December 2013 and was hired by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to questions from The Oaklandside about whether they knew of Fesmire’s discipline record in Oakland. Fesmire later joined the Boise Police Department before retiring from law enforcement this year. 

We emailed and called Fesmire through contacts listed at his current place of work in Idaho, but he did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Police misconduct records are sometimes kept secret even from other police agencies

California does not have a centralized, statewide system for tracking officers with histories of violence and misconduct. Instead, the state leaves it up to local police departments and sheriff’s offices to keep track of individual officers’ histories. Hiring decisions are made by individual agencies without the help of any kind of comprehensive discipline database, making it easier for officers with lengthy records of misconduct to bounce from one department to another. 

This is a national problem, but until very recently California went further than almost any other state in shielding officers’ records through the use of secrecy laws. Similarly, a 2019 series by the California Reporting Project documented hundreds of police officers and sheriff’s deputies throughout the state with criminal histories who were able to land new jobs in law enforcement despite having criminal convictions, including 20% of all officers in the Central Valley city of McFarland.

Miguel Masso’s law enforcement career—which spanned less than two decades—is filled with the sort of high-profile misconduct incidents that characterize problem officers.

Masso was hired by Oakland in 2008 after he spent about one year as a police officer in the small city of Morgan Hill, south of San Jose. Before this, he was an officer in New York City, where, over a span of just two years, he faced14 misconduct complaints and one federal civil rights lawsuit for excessive force.

In March 2007, Masso and three other officers working at the NYPD’s 52nd Precinct in the Central Bronx tried to wake up a man in police custody named Rafael Santiago, who was sleeping in a cell. According to court records and NYPD Internal Affairs documents, when Santiago refused to get up, he was pulled out of the cell, slammed against the floor, tased three times, maced, and kicked in the head and body. Medical records confirmed Santiago suffered a black eye and six serious burns on his back from the electric shocks. Santiago was then placed back in his cell and denied medical attention.  Masso quit the NYPD before investigators could interview him about the allegations. Santiago received a $54,000 legal settlement for his treatment in 2010.

Of the 14 complaints lodged against Masso in New York, three were “substantiated,” meaning he was found to have committed the alleged act, while four were ruled “unsubstantiated” by NYPD investigators, meaning the allegations could have happened but the department couldn’t prove that they did. Three cases were deemed “unfounded,” meaning Masso was cleared of wrongdoing.

Masso’s NYPD disciplinary records were released by the New York Civil Liberties Union last year as a result of recent New York state law that removed previous confidentiality protections for law enforcement personnel files. 

Representatives of the Oakland Police Department declined to say whether or not OPD knew about Masso’s disciplinary record while he was an NYPD officer. In 2012, OPD representatives claimed that all “lateral transfers” from other police forces to Oakland are carefully scrutinized, including a review of their personnel files from previous employers.

Masso’s conduct at the Hollister Police Department, where he landed after leaving Oakland, also came under scrutiny. He was accused of wrongful arrests on more than one occasion, including a 2017 incident in which Masso allegedly entered the home of Holly Crandon and her boyfriend, Roger Corza, without a warrant. The couple was watching television when Masso opened their front door and walked into the home, claiming he was searching for a suspect. Crandon and Corza asked Masso why he was in their home, and Masso refused to provide identification. Masso allegedly tried to grab Crandon, but she wriggled out of his grasp. A second Hollister police officer intervened, and the officers left without making an arrest. 

Eight days later, Crandon, Corza, and Crandon’s nine-year-old daughter were returning home from a laundromat when Masso pulled up to their driveway in his squad car and allegedly grabbed Corza and handcuffed him. “Shut up! You know what you did,” Masso allegedly told Corza when asked why he was being arrested. Crandon attempted to call a family member on her cellphone and walked towards the front door of the house. Suddenly, Masso tackled her from behind with enough force to knock her out of her sandals. Crandon’s daughter began screaming for help and people passing by outside stopped to observe the struggle. Corza and Crandon were released after a sergeant appeared on the scene, and Crandon was issued a citation for resisting arrest. 

According to court records, Masso entered Crandon’s home and later handcuffed Corza over a case of mistaken identity in which he thought Corza was a domestic violence suspect. In 2018, Crandon and Corza settled a federal civil rights settlement with Masso. Per the court order, Masso personally paid $100,000 in damages to the couple. The incident and lawsuit have not been previously reported.

We asked heads of the Hollister police department if they were aware that Masso was disciplined in Oakland for bad tactics that led up to the fatal shooting of Blueford, but the department did not respond to requests for comment. In summer 2020, an online petition, created by Hollister residents calling for Hollister Police to fire Masso, gathered more than 20,000 signatures.

Blueford’s family helped push for greater police transparency

Jeralynn (center) and Adam Blueford (second from right) in 2012 protesting the lack of information about the police shooting that resulted in their son’s death. Credit: Ali Winston

One of Alan Blueford’s friends called his parents, Adam and Jeralynn, hours after the shooting and told them their son had been killed by the police. The couple drove to OPD’s headquarters where they eventually met with a homicide investigator who, according to Jeralynn, told them Alan had been in a “gun battle” with Masso.

Ten days later, the family appeared at an Oakland City Council meeting with dozens of supporters.

“We’re getting a lot of misinformation,” Adam Blueford said during the meeting. By then, OPD had issued a statement clarifying that Alan hadn’t fired a gun (and noting that Masso had shot himself along with Blueford). He told the councilmembers the family had grown increasingly disturbed by what they were learning from the press, including information that Masso had been named in a civil rights lawsuit filed in 2007 by the man beaten in a New York jail cell by officers. 

Blueford added that it was his understanding that OPD was hiring officers without doing proper background checks to make sure they didn’t have records of using excessive force. He wanted assurances this practice would stop.

The Blueford family continued to ask the city for more information and returned to a City Council meeting in September 2012 with over 100 supporters. “Why’d this guy chase my son for five city blocks?” Adam asked the councilmembers. “Where’s Masso at? Does anybody care?”

“We still don’t have a police report,” Jeralynn said during the meeting. “I’m broken. I’m shattered. I’m devastated.”

Some councilmembers, including Rebecca Kaplan and Desley Brooks, called on OPD to provide more information and communicate better with the Bluefords. Then-City Council President Larry Reid promised the family that the police report would be in their hands before the meeting was over, asking OPD to make it happen. But OPD Chief Howard Jordan failed to show up at City Hall with the record that night. Protesters blocked the meeting from continuing and the councilmembers left the chambers early.

Two weeks later, the Bluefords marched to another City Council meeting with yet more supporters in tow. The police department did make the crime report public that day, but the document was heavily redacted and didn’t include documents from OPD’s internal affairs investigators concluding whether or not the officers’ actions were justified, or whether the officers would be disciplined. The documents we obtained two weeks ago finally show that OPD suspended Masso over his actions that night.

A few days after the disrupted City Council meeting, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office released its own report about the shooting, concluding Masso had probable cause to believe Blueford was a threat. Based on the DA’s decision, local media outlets reported that Masso was cleared of wrongdoing. But the objective of the DA’s report was to determine only whether or not Masso should be criminally prosecuted for homicide. It didn’t say anything about if and how Masso had violated OPD policy. 

Roughly a year later, in September 2013, OPD informed Masso he was going to be suspended. After his Skelly hearing, at which Masso and his attorney from the police union had the opportunity to object, Chief Sean Whent went ahead and suspended Masso for three days, along with Fesmire.

OPD said this week that they have no record of Masso appealing his suspension.

In 2018, Jeralynn Blueford joined the campaign to pass SB 1421, the state law that removed confidentiality for police personnel records in cases of shootings, giving the public a look at internal investigations of controversial use of force incidents for the first time in decades. She’s one of dozens of parents of people killed by the police across the country who have sought answers over the years, but have been stymied by strict state laws that have kept police discipline records secret. She said this week that she’s glad more of the truth has come out.

“We used what happened to Alan to argue for great transparency,” she said in an interview. “It was one of the big cases that was cited as to why we need more access to these records.”

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.

Ali Winston is an independent reporter covering criminal justice, privacy, and surveillance. He is a former reporter for the New York Times and fellow at Type Investigations. His reporting on police corruption, right-wing extremism, and surveillance have appeared in a number of regional and national outlets and been recognized with several awards, including a George Polk Award for Local Reporting. Ali is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the University of California.