Months after son was killed by Oakland police, Bluefords seek answers in police report

on September 21, 2012

Adam and Jeralynn Blueford have been searching since late spring for details surrounding the killing of their son Alan, whose death in May—the 18-year-old was shot to death in East Oakland by a city police officer—was at the heart of the controversy that broke up the Oakland City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Blueford, a senior at Skyline High, was found dead in a driveway on the 9200 block of Birch Street, blocks from a corner store where he and two friends were first approached by police on that Sunday night.  He had been shot by an on-duty Oakland police officer named Miguel Masso, according to police statements.

That much, at least, seems not to be in question. Now, more than four months after the teen’s death, Blueford’s parents have amped up their frantic quest for the police report—an official document written by police after a crime or accident that provides details of the incident. Family members this week recounted conflicting statements by police, early media reports, and inconsistent statements from people they say they’ve spoken to.  While Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan has said the full report can’t be released while investigations into the shooting continue, the Bluefords and their lawyers insist the police report could help clear up some of the confusion.

“There were lies told to the coroner and to the media about my son,” Adam Blueford, 49, said in a lengthy phone interview Friday morning, referring to conflicting reports about whether or not the teen was carrying a gun. Police have confirmed that he did not fire at officers. No gunshot residue was found on his body, according to the coroner’s report.

The high-profile case spurred a protest at Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting, though the Bluefords’ request for police information was not part of the council’s agenda for the evening.  After Adam Blueford stood to present his plea to councilmembers during the pre-meeting public comments section, raucous shouting and chanting by the audience led council president Larry Reid to shut down the meeting at about 8 p.m., before councilmembers ever reached their first agenda item.

“Since the last time here, things haven’t gotten any better for us—in fact, they’ve gotten worse,” Blueford said that night as he addressed the elected officials. “There is a lot of troubling information in this case.”

Mayor Jean Quan, who did not make a public appearance at the council meeting Tuesday evening, responded to the case late this week. The police department first received an official request for the police report by the Blueford family on May 29, she said in the statement, but added, “The city must withhold records if disclosure would compromise an ongoing investigation or a related ongoing investigation.”

Releasing information “could jeopardize the ongoing investigation,” the statement said.

At a Wednesday press conference, addressing a dozen reporters in the Oakland police headquarters downtown,  Jordan said there are currently at least four ongoing investigations into the Blueford shooting. Certain results required for these investigations “are still not back from the crime lab,” he said.

Local attorney John Burris, who has frequently been involved in litigation related to the Oakland Police Department, said Friday morning that in July he filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Bluefords in order to put pressure on the police department to release the police report.

The complaint alleges civil rights violations and criminal wrongdoing, and states that Blueford “did not present a legitimate threat “ to Masso when the police officer shot him.

“We’re waiting to see whether or not the documents support our investigation,” Burris said. Four months is not an abnormal time to wait for a police report to be turned over, he said, but he’s seeking official documentation and is trying to move on with the investigation. His goal, he said, is to find out if police statements at the time of the shooting contradict the report.

“We’re trying to match police reports with up with statements to determine if any evidence supports one side or the other,” Burris added.

Adam Blueford insists the family is not motivated by a desire for money from the city. “What brought us to the City Council meeting is a need for answers,” he said Friday morning, as he explained why he made an emotional issue public. “We couldn’t get any straight answers about what happened and we’re being told things that don’t make sense.”

According to a report by the Alameda County Coroner’s Office, the chase that ended in the younger Blueford’s death ensued after two officers, including Masso, reportedly approached three men while doing a “walk and stop” on 90th Avenue and Birch Street, and Blueford fled on foot. Preliminary statements by police officers on the scene May 6 asserted that Blueford shot Masso, but officials have since confirmed that the teen didn’t aim a weapon at the officer.  In fact, Oakland Police Department spokesman Sgt. Christopher Bolton has confirmed to Oakland North that Masso shot himself in the foot.

There is also conflicting information about whether the shooting victim was ever transported to Highland Hospital. According to the coroner’s report, he was at the hospital at 2 a.m.—more than an hour after he was shot three times in the torso.   But Blueford family members said they were told the body had never been transported there. Hospital officials, citing privacy rules, declined to comment on Friday as to whether or not the body was ever at Highland.

Adam Blueford said Friday that because allegations from the police department have already been contradicted, his family has ample reason to ask police officials for the full, unredacted report.

“There was no exchange of gunfire like the police said,” he said. “His body was never at Highland Hospital.  And we’ve talked to witnesses who have contradicted what police said—Alan never had a gun.”

Masso, the police officer named in the Blueford shooting, is currently on medical leave, Bolton wrote in an email Thursday.  Bolton declined to give any further information due to the ongoing investigation.

According to Quan’s office, five investigations are currently underway related to the Blueford killing. In a news release published Thursday, officials said the investigations are a criminal investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office; an Oakland Police Department Major Crimes Section investigation, which is required in every instance of lethal force by a police officer; a police department Internal Affairs Division investigation; an Executive Review Board investigation to determine whether or not the force used was in compliance with department policies, and an investigation from the Citizen’s Police Review Board.

Watch the full, two-hour meeting of the Oakland City Council that was shut down hereRead more about the City Council meeting shutdown here, and what it might mean for future public meetings.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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