Blueford family, attorneys still have questions after release of police documents
on October 8, 2012
Standing before a well-worn banner reading “Justice for Alan Blueford,” on Friday attorneys for the family criticized the heavily redacted Oakland Police Department crime report released October 2 that details the 18-year-old’s death.
Supporters hoisted signs bearing Blueford’s face alongside messages like “RIP Alan Blueford” and “OPD killed! OPD lied!” while Dan Siegel, one of the Bluefords’ lawyers, motioned toward the City Hall building behind him. He called for the prosecution of OPD Officer Miguel Masso, who shot Blueford on May 6, and condemned police and city officials for continuing to protect Masso, saying that they only shed “crocodile tears” for the family and had no intent to amend their actions. “We want to emphasize the lack of responsibility and accountability of everyone in this building,” he said.
In his speech, Siegel also referred to the Negotiated Settlement Agreement mandated by Federal District Judge Thelton Henderson after the 2003 Riders case, in which four OPD officers were charged with planting evidence and falsifying arrests. The agreement detailed 51 improvements for the department to make, including bettering internal investigations and police discipline. The OPD still has 12 tasks to complete. If they do not finish the reforms, Henderson will appoint a federal receiver to monitor the department and make sure it is in compliance with the agreement.
Last week, plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case issued a motion asking Henderson for partial federal receivership over the department, so that the remaining tasks could be supervised and completed. “You wonder why Judge Henderson is poised in December to take over the Oakland Police Department,” Siegel said, referring to the judge’s authority to appoint a receiver for the department. “Frankly, I don’t see a better alternative.”
The Blueford family was absent from the press conference after releasing a statement earlier that day saying they were not ready to speak publicly about the report. Instead, about a dozen supporters, along with Siegel and Walter Riley, another one of the Bluefords’ lawyers, spoke on the steps of City Hall.
“They are incredibly strong, upstanding people and I really admire them,” Siegel said of the Blueford family. “Especially on Tuesday with the City Council and reading the report—it’s been hard to deal with.”
Protesters filled the council chamber last Tuesday during the October 2 meeting in support of the Blueford family’s request for a copy of the police report from the shooting of their son. After the room reached capacity, police officers sealed the room in an effort to prevent raucous protest similar to the one at the September 22 meeting. Access to the upper balcony of the chambers was also blocked.
After about an hour of protest on October 2, the protesters left after City Council President Larry Reid handed over his own copy of the crime report to the Blueford family. A heavily redacted version of the report was released to the public online on October 3 by the OPD.
But there are conflicting reports about when the family actually received the report and their knowledge of the timeline for the report’s release. According to an October 2 statement released online by OPD Police Chief Howard Jordan, the documents were given to the family’s attorney that same afternoon, prior to the city council meeting.
“Pursuant to their request under the California Public Records Request Act, documents were released this afternoon, October 2nd, to the attorney representing the family of a young man named Alan Blueford who was shot and killed during an officer-involved shooting shortly after midnight on May 6, 2012,” Jordan wrote.
But John Burris, one of the Bluefords’ attorneys, disputed this statement, saying he received the report between 5:30 and 6 p.m. on October 2, after he sent someone to pick it up. He said the family was not given a timeline for when the report would be released to them and that the police led them to believe that the report would be released within two to three weeks of Alan’s death—a month at maximum, he said.
“There was nothing in the report that could not have been handed over within a week or two after the incident,” Burris said by phone on October 4. “There’s no sense why it couldn’t be turned over. It caused distrust and unhappiness among family members, and rightfully so.”
OPD officials said the family was made aware of the department’s policies regarding the release of the report. “The chief met with the family and their attorneys early on and [he] explained that while there was a criminal investigation, it was not best investigative practice to release the documents,” said OPD spokesperson Sgt. Chris Bolton, speaking on October 4 after an unrelated press conference. “Releasing the documents may impede the very investigation they wanted.”
After reading the report, Burris said the most significant part is the record of Blueford’s last words because it calls into question whether Blueford drew a gun on officers, as described in one witness account that was included in the report. According to the report, Blueford said, “I didn’t do anything” before he was shot by Masso.
“It raises a real question whether, at that moment, he was actually pointing a gun,” Burris said.
The police report states only that a handgun, a Sig Sauer P230, was recovered at the scene, but information about the owner is redacted. No witnesses were able to say definitively who initiated gunfire. At Friday’s press conference, Siegel said the Blueford family said Blueford did not own a gun.
Burris said the police report gives no evidence that Blueford committed any crime. “It opened more questions than before, but from the family’s point of view, it was a first start,” Burris said, referring to the release of the documents. “It allowed them to see definitively what people were saying about it.”
District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel said there were communication problems on both sides with regard to the timeline of the report’s release. “It’s certainly easier to communicate with people when there isn’t shouting and interruption,” she said, referring to the protests at recent council meetings. “I’ve always encouraged the city to be responsive and to give detail as to process. I hope, as we were able to [Tuesday], we will be able to continue business.”
District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan emphasized that proper procedures for police investigations need to be taken to ensure a fair outcome. “When a member of the public is prosecuted for a crime, you don’t just punish them because the crowd said they should be punished—you give them a trial,” she said. “This officer [Masso] deserves an Internal Affairs investigation and a DA investigation and then recommendations will be made about whether he should be fired or whether he should not be fired.”
At Friday’s press conference, Siegel and Walter Riley, another one of the Blueford’s attorneys, called for Jordan and City Administrator Deanna Santana to be fired. “We need a police chief who is strong, willing to discipline these rogue cops and make these [Negotiated Settlement Agreement] reforms,” Siegel said during the conference. “We have a city administrator who probably needs to find her way back to San Jose because she is a failure.”
Siegel said the family’s attorneys and supporters have requested meetings with U.S. Federal District Attorney Melinda Haag and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley as the next step toward investigating Masso. “We will be forceful in getting this meeting, if need be,” he said.
The Blueford shooting is the subject of four separate investigations—two through the OPD, one from the Alameda County District Attorney’s office and one through the OPD Citizen’s Review Board, Bolton said on Thursday.
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