By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
In the seven years since, he's been shot at twice, worked 12 homicides, arrested three homicide suspects and seen one friend die. He's also been honored at the White House as a Top Cop by the National Association of Police Organizations for his actions in the Tent City riots in November 1996. With six other Phoenix police officers, Masino stormed the barricades of the inmates rampaging in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's tent jail and rescued trapped jail guards.
Lieutenant Chris Gentis tapped Masino to enter hostile territory again--this time in their own backyard.
At Woodmar, Masino had to win the trust of not only the residents at Woodmar, but the gang-bangers as well.
Masino disagrees with the residents who think the cops gave up on Woodmar.
"There was never really a full investigation before," Masino says. "You've got 150 units with 100 owners here. Dealing with so many different people makes it almost impossible to get things done."
All of the different owners presented legal obstacles for the police as well. "You can't tie the problems to one specific apartment and get an abatement order," Mendoza says.
But even other cops confronted Masino and Gentis and told them they were wasting their time, that Woodmar was a lost cause.
"Nothing was working," Masino says. "The attitude was, 'What are you going to do that's different?' The other officers would say, 'Look, we've already done everything we can there, there's nothing else we can do.' We just said, 'That's wrong. We can do this.'"
Masino felt a responsibility to make a change. He believed the people at Woodmar shouldn't have to live as if under siege.
"If it were my neighborhood, I wouldn't want to live like this. I live in a part of town where if shots were fired, everybody would be shouting for the police to do something. It should be the same here," he explains. "There are a lot of kids here. There are a lot of good people in this place. You can't leave them stranded."
Masino's job was to "find out who the good guys and bad guys were," as he puts it. Undercover officers could make drug buys in Woodmar every day, but it was useless unless they knew who they were buying from. In order to make a case, the police had to learn the names of the dealers and gang members. That meant getting close.
It seems unlikely that Masino--who is white--would be able to win over a group of predominantly black drug dealers while patrolling alone, on foot, in an area other cops didn't want to drive through.
The gang-bangers seemed stunned by the thought themselves.
He would walk through the complex and watch drug deals go down without doing anything but nodding and saying, "Hi."
But more than anything else, Gentis chose Masino for the job because Masino gets along with anybody, it seems, without losing his authority as a cop. If he were a politician, you'd call it charisma. Since he's a police officer, you just think of him as a regular guy--who happens to carry a Glock and a badge.
"It took a very special officer who can speak the lingo and convince them to open up and talk to him," Gentis says.
Masino wasn't supposed to make arrests. He was supposed to watch and pay attention.
"The way it usually works, two cops come in and they ask for back-up, they pull their guns and they hook 'em up [stop and search the suspects], then they leave," Masino explains. "I came in, and I played dumb. They'd do deals right in front of me and I didn't do anything. They thought I was fat, stupid and happy."
It must have worked, because the Crips didn't shoot him. They were curious about "Officer Scott," as everyone called him, though. They began developing theories about him: Competing schools of thought held that he was covered by SWAT, or he was RoboCop, or just congenitally stupid.
"They couldn't believe it when I came in alone," Masino recalls. "First, they told me that I must have snipers watching me--nobody would have come in alone. Then there was this rumor that I was a quick-draw artist. Then they decided I must be on the take. Then a lot of them just figured I was dumb old Officer Scott. They couldn't understand it. They came up with all kinds of stories."
The Crips got so comfortable with Masino they let him videotape them--he turned the tapes over to the drug enforcement bureau.
One suspect he had a hard time photographing was Shane Watson, who would turn away whenever Masino brought out the video camera.
But the lure of new technology drew Watson in. Masino was showing off the digital camera he'd just been issued by the department, which takes instant electronic photos and stores them in its memory.
"He's like, 'That's really cool,'" Masino says. "So I say, 'Stand over there, I'll take your picture.' I even got him to pose twice. The first time he was hamming it up, so the second time, I said, 'Come on, Shane, be serious.'"