Their son was shot and killed by Oakland police. They’re still fighting…

Jeralynn Brown-Blueford could barely understand the teenager on the phone through his sobbing. It was the middle of the night in May 2012, and the young man had news about her son, who was two weeks from graduation at Oakland’s Skyline High School.

“Alan …” the caller said, unable to continue for a moment before he revealed that Brown-Blueford’s son had been shot.

“Is he dead?” she asked.

“Yeah,” the teenager said.

In the terrible swirling hours that followed, Brown-Blueford learned that her 18-year-old son, Alan Blueford, had been shot and killed by Oakland police. The mother and father, Adam Blueford, joined the ranks of families across California who have lost a loved one to violence by police and received a lifelong inheritance of grief and confusion.

From 2016 to 2021, the most recent period for which California Department of Justice data is available, police in the state killed nearly 1,000 people. African Americans like Alan Blueford, as well as Latinos, are overrepresented in the numbers. Officers are almost always cleared by local district attorneys, as was the one who shot Alan Blueford. And the loved ones left behind struggle with declining public interest as new police killings overtake older ones.

A decade after Alan’s death, his parents remain determined to turn their continuing pain into advocacy that can help other families from enduring what they have. They see it as a mission in their son’s name.

“We’re not gonna let his name die,” Adam Blueford said.

The first story

Alan Blueford was a senior who played football and had a part-time job in the cafeteria at Skyline High. He was saving up for his first car and had been thinking about going into an X-ray technician program at Merritt College in Oakland. He intended to pay his way through school to be a physical therapist one X-ray at a time. He was following a bit in his mother’s footsteps; she worked in health care.

Blueford had also been “testing life,” as Brown-Blueford put it. “Some good decisions, some not-so-good decisions.”

As police would point out to reporters after the shooting, Blueford was on juvenile probation stemming from a burglary case. He had also worked hard to graduate on time and had recently told his father he was ready to calm down.

Shortly after midnight on May 6, 2012, Blueford was walking down the sidewalk in East Oakland with two other teenagers when two officers stopped them. The officers would later say they believed one of the three — not Blueford — had a handgun in his waistband, according to a judge’s summary in a court filing associated with the parents’ suit against the city.

Jeralynn Brown-Blueford locks up at Alan Blueford Center for Justice, which she and her husband founded after their son was killed by Oakland police in May 2012.

Jeralynn Brown-Blueford locks up at Alan Blueford Center for Justice, which she and her husband founded after their son was killed by Oakland police in May 2012.

Salgu Wissmath / The Chronicle

While police were searching for the weapon, Blueford ran away. Officer Miguel Masso, who’d been with the agency since 2008 after a couple years as an officer in New York City, pursued him on foot for five blocks.

What happened next remains in dispute because, though Masso had a body-worn camera, it wasn’t on. Masso, who left the Police Department a few years after the shooting and didn’t respond to a message sent through Facebook, told investigators Blueford turned around mid-stride and pointed a handgun at him, court records say. Masso said he was terrified and thought shooting Blueford was the only way to survive, according to an Alameda County District Attorney’s Office report that cleared Masso.

Police said they found a gun nearby with Blueford’s thumbprint on it, though his family disputed he had a gun when he was shot.

Masso also shot himself in the foot, but when Oakland police told the public about the killing, they accused Blueford of shooting Masso. That version of the story appeared in initial media reports.

Blueford’s mother was also quoted, saying she couldn’t believe the story police were telling. Though police would walk back that statement, making it clear Masso shot himself, Blueford’s parents found many people never heard the correction and judged their son as someone who got what he deserved.

‘Shattered in a billion pieces’

The parents hired attorneys to help pry information from the city. They hired investigators. They sought records from the Police Department and were told state law stood in the way. They sued the city. Oakland officials defended the officer’s actions.

Meanwhile, the mother and father struggled to make it from one day to the next.

Adam Blueford, who had always considered it his role to watch out for his family of seven-turned-six, felt like he had failed. He wondered what he could have done differently. He wondered about his son’s last seconds. He figured his son ran because he feared an arrest could keep him from walking at graduation. The father couldn’t imagine his son pointing a gun at a police officer, especially when the teenager was so looking forward to the future; Blueford didn’t buy it.

Jeralynn Brown-Blueford holds a photo of her son Alan Blueford, who died in a 2012 police shooting.

Jeralynn Brown-Blueford holds a photo of her son Alan Blueford, who died in a 2012 police shooting.

Salgu Wissmath / The Chronicle

He worried for Alan’s siblings. He worried about the cost of litigation.

“I just wanted to keep our family together,” Blueford said.

He especially worried for his wife, who spent days in bed and forgot to change clothes and shower.

“I felt like I was shot in my heart, and it was shattered in a billion pieces,” Brown-Blueford said.

She stayed in bed because her home — and the world itself — was full of things that reminded her of her son. She suffered the particular pain of missing someone who seems simultaneously everywhere all the time, and nowhere ever.

Alan’s voice

Brown-Blueford forced herself to go out to rallies and protests and meet other families who had lost someone to police killings. She felt less alone, and she encouraged the families not to back down from demanding more information about their loved ones’ deaths.

The camaraderie and shared purpose helped, but Brown-Blueford kept finding her way back to the bed and gnawing depression.

The parents decided in 2014 to accept a $110,000 settlement from the city, though it involved no admission of wrongdoing by Masso or the Oakland Police Department. They were beaten down by the fight.

Then Brown-Blueford had a dream.

Her granddaughter had fallen in the deep end of a pool. Brown-Blueford dove in and pulled the girl to safety. Then the grandmother, not a good swimmer, started to sink. She heard Alan’s voice. “Kick! Kick! Kick!” he yelled. “Move your arms!” And she did. She started to swim. “Yes, you can do it,” her son said. “You can live.”

She woke up covered in sweat.

Her son’s voice had made her more determined to find a path she could live with. While praying and studying the Bible with a minister, Brown-Blueford found comfort she hadn’t believed was possible. She decided she wanted to help people the way her minister helped her.

“Alan’s not here,” Brown-Blueford said. “I’ve got to be his voice.”

She became a minister and a chaplain, working with people in hospitals. She spoke at rallies and events, sharing her story and advocating for more transparency in California law enforcement.

Adam Blueford and Jeralynn Brown-Blueford named the Alan Blueford Center for Justice in Oakland after the son they lost to police violence in 2012.

Adam Blueford and Jeralynn Brown-Blueford named the Alan Blueford Center for Justice in Oakland after the son they lost to police violence in 2012.

Salgu Wissmath / The Chronicle

The mother and father threw themselves into the Alan Blueford Center for Justice, which they had started building up within a year of their son’s death with a goal of helping other families who’ve lost someone to police violence with various support, including connecting them to attorneys. The parents also started an annual holiday toy drive in their son’s name for kids in need.

In 2018, Brown-Blueford helped push for the passage of SB1421, the landmark legislation that made previously confidential police records available to the public.

That law would help Alan Blueford’s parents finally see records they’d sought since 2012. The Oaklandside, a local news outlet, filed suit, alleging that city officials had ignored repeated requests for public documents related to Blueford’s death. In 2021, the outlet received several records, which revealed for the first time that Masso had been found in violation of policy for failing to notify dispatch of the foot chase, failing to turn on his body-worn camera and failing to keep enough distance from Alan Blueford in the chase.

Blueford’s parents were heartbroken and alarmed to learn that the policy violations had been kept from them. “One reason my wife wanted to settle the case was they said that Masso hadn’t done anything wrong,” Blueford said.

Asked why the violations hadn’t been shared with the family, Oakland police spokesperson Kim Armstead said the information had been confidential until the passage of SB1421.

‘Where we are now’

At the same time, there was vindication for the parents in the police records. They had always believed there was more they weren’t being told, and they were correct. They now take the lessons they’ve learned and use them to try to help others.

Brown-Blueford was named a 2021 fellow in the Mothers Against Police Brutality Legacy Fellowship, along with mothers from across the country.

The fellows were chosen because each had been “directly impacted by police violence, and they have emerged as change agents for justice in their home communities,” according to Mothers Against Police Brutality. The fellowship is a two-year program featuring classes, lectures and various support, including leadership development meant to help continue and amplify their advocacy.

On Dec. 19, the Bluefords are hosting their annual toy drive in honor of their son’s birthday at their center on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. It would have been Alan’s 29th birthday.

The Bluefords still grieve. The holidays are always hard. Brown-Blueford struggles to cook without her son there in the kitchen, as he always was, tasting the food and telling her what it needed. Other family members, including Adam Blueford’s mother and sister, who both died shortly after Alan Blueford, are missing, too.

“Although there’s family members who aren’t there, we often thank God for them, too,” Brown-Blueford said, “because they are a huge part of where we are now.”

Joshua Sharpe is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @joshuawsharpe

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