Why is this cop still in uniform?

April 3, 2017

Todd Chretien recounts how one California police officer's thirst for brutality has crashed into the life of yet another innocent member of the public.

ON JANUARY 28, 2017, Hollister Police Department officer Miguel Masso stopped Earl Malanado as he was driving home from a friend's house in this central California town. Masso claimed that Malanado's license plates didn't match his car's description, although he subsequently retracted the accusation.

Masso then issued Malanado citations for an out-of-date registration and for not having a paper copy of his proof of insurance in the car. When Malanado protested against the false reason given for the initial stop and stated that he had a First Amendment right to speak up for himself, Masso became agitated and announced that he was placing Malanado under arrest--supposedly for "interfering with a police investigation." He ordered Malanado to exit the vehicle.

In an interview with Socialist Worker, Malanado describes what happens next.

I didn't even get a chance to get out of my car and stand up. Masso grabbed my right hand in a submission hold, you know, like cops do, and knocked my phone, which was still recording, out of my hand. He really sent it flying. His attack was immediate and vicious, like a Ninja. I went to the ground like a rag doll.

Killer cop Miguel Masso photographed by activists in downtown Oakland
Killer cop Miguel Masso photographed by activists in downtown Oakland (Occupy Oakland)

Malanado didn't know yet, but he wasn't Masso's first victim.

On May 6, 2012, Masso shot and killed 18-year-old African American high school student Alan Blueford in East Oakland after racially profiling him and two friends. Masso later claimed that he had Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome from his time in Iraq and had "gone into autopilot" as he pursued Blueford.

Masso initially claimed that Blueford had shot him, but it was quickly learned that Masso shot himself in the foot in addition to fatally shooting Blueford.

Masso had a history even before the Blueford murder.

In 2007, Rafael Santiago filed a lawsuit against Masso and three other New York City Police officers for beating and repeatedly using a Taser on him while in custody. After the case was settled, Masso resigned from the NYPD and took a job as an officer in Oakland.

After Masso killed their son, Alan Blueford's parents Jeralynn and Adam spearheaded a high-profile activist movement organized under the name JAB--Justice for Alan Blueford. For months, community members and anti-police brutality activists occupied City Council meetings and brought business as usual to a halt.

The case made headlines in Oakland for more than two years. Although the Alameda County district attorney refused to press charges against Masso, the city of Oakland subsequently paid a settlement in a civil lawsuit filed by the Blueford family.

As was the case in New York, Masso resigned under pressure--only to be hired by a new department in August 2014, this time in Hollister, just 80 miles south of Oakland.

IF THE Hollister Police Department was aware of Masso's history of abuse, Malanado was not. Masso dragged the 50-year-old man from his car on January 28, and things quickly escalated out of control. Malanado said:

Masso pinned my hands behind my back and threw me to the ground. While I was falling, he pulled my jacket up over my head so it was covering my face. I have COPD, which means I have trouble breathing. So he had my hands pinned behind me, with his left knee on the back of my knees and his right knee on my right arm, pushing my face into the ground, with my jacket covering my mouth and nose.

I kept yelling, "I can't breathe, my medication is in my jacket. I can't breathe." I started to panic and just kept screaming, "I can't breathe."

Luckily for Malanado, another Hollister officer arrived on the scene and took him into custody. "All I could think was that I wanted to get into the sheriff's custody and away from Masso," said Malanado. "When the second cop put me in his patrol car I told him I thought Masso was crazy."

Malanado was then taken to jail and processed by the sheriff's department. At no point along the way was he read his Miranda rights, and neither the Hollister Police nor the sheriff's departments took Malanado to the hospital for medical treatment.

Upon being released into his family's custody after midnight, Malanado returned home briefly and then went to the hospital. While at the hospital, a Hollister police officer entered Malanado's room and questioned him about the encounter with Masso.

"He just kept smirking and implying that everything was my fault," explained Malanado. Although no longer under arrest, the officer refused to leave Malanado alone. Hospital medical and security personnel eventually had to insist the officer exit the room.

Nearly two months later, Malanado is still feeling the effects of the assault.

My injuries are mostly bruises, on my knees and especially my right elbow. There were cuts on my wrist, and I had an x-ray of my elbow to see if there was a fracture. Now I have pains in my knee. I have a lot of trouble sleeping too. Not so much because of the physical pain, but because of the mental anguish. It's all I can think about so I can't sleep. I keep wondering, "What did I do? Why me? Why do I deserve this?"

Soon after Malanado's ordeal, a family member Googled Masso's name and learned about the Blueford case. Malanado quickly reached out to Alan Blueford's parents to find out what had happened in Oakland. He became convinced that he had to speak out:

I thought, "That's strike three." Of course, what he did to Alan was much worse than what he did to me, but somebody has to put a stop to this. I know some people are scared or don't have the means to speak out. But it's just not right.

I'm not out to ruin the guy's life, but he can't be in a position to have power over people. There's clearly a pattern here. I don't believe he's in police work to try to help people.

Further Reading

From the archives