Video shows California deputies kill teen who was believed kidnapped

Savannah Graziano, a 15-year-old who was abducted by her father in September 2022, was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies as she followed their instructions and ran toward them on the side of a California highway, according to newly released video and audio footage.

Graziano was killed on Highway 15 in the San Bernardino County city of Hesperia nearly 24 hours after the California Highway Patrol had issued an Amber Alert for her abduction. Authorities found her mother, Tracy Martinez, shot to death in the street near her Fontana home, and the girl was missing. Her father, Anthony Graziano, was described as the main suspect behind the killing and the girl’s abduction. Authorities said he also fired at another person and a child at a nearby school around the same time.

His truck was described in the alert and was spotted by a civilian who saw the girl and her father on Sept. 27, a day after her disappearance, authorities revealed Friday in a 15-minute video. The footage, which summarizes the shooting, was released to an independent journalist who had requested it under the California Public Records Act.

Following up on the call, sheriff’s deputies found the father and daughter near the neighborhood of Lenwood but came under fire shortly before 11 a.m. when they tried to pull the truck over, San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials said. A 70-mile pursuit followed, with Anthony Graziano shooting outside the truck with a semi-automatic weapon. The pursuit came to an end on the side of the highway when Graziano tried to drive up a steep embankment.

As seen in footage from a Sheriff’s Department helicopter, the truck reverses toward several law enforcement vehicles, and Anthony Graziano fires his weapon, kicking up puffs of dirt.

After the truck stops, Savannah Graziano can be seen getting out of the passenger side of the vehicle and crouching low to the ground as she moves toward a nearby sheriff’s deputy, who instructs her to walk toward him. She seems to hesitate, crouches and continues to walk forward. That’s when she is shot by a deputy’s bullet.

After the shooting, her body is blurred out in the video.

Someone can be heard saying over the radio, “Oh no,” after she is shot.

Deputies on the ground were not wearing body cameras, but the department released audio from a microphone on the belt of a deputy who was near the girl when she got out of her father’s truck.

“Passenger, get out,” the deputy repeatedly yells as gunfire erupts in the background.

He instructs the girl, “Come here! Come to me! Come, come, come … walk, walk, walk.”

The deputy pleads with his fellow officers to stop shooting as she falls to the ground.

“Stop shooting her! He’s in the car! Stop!” the deputy shouts. “She’s OK! He’s in the car! … Stop!”

Police tried to provide medical aid to the girl, but she was gravely wounded and later died from her injuries at a hospital, according to authorities. Her father also died at the scene.

Savannah Graziano was shot by deputies who had a different view of the truck, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The department did not provide the names of deputies involved in the shooting but said they were at a distance and on a higher elevation to where the truck ultimately stopped. Those deputies shot at her because they saw a person get out of the truck and walk toward the nearest deputy, unaware he was calling to her, according to authorities.

The shooting is under investigation by the California Department of Justice. The Sheriff’s Department declined to provide additional comments or details.

At the time of the shooting, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said it appeared that the girl ran toward deputies during the shooting and said she was wearing “tactical gear.” But in aerial footage, Savannah Graziano is seen cautiously approaching deputies shortly before she is killed.

Authorities did find multiple weapons, ammunition, flash bang and smoke grenades, along with body-armor and tactical helmets at the scene of the incident.

Ed Obayashi is an expert who investigates use-of-force incidents for California law enforcement departments but is not involved in the investigation of the Graziano shooting. He told The Times that he believed the deputies who shot Savannah Graziano likely had a different point of view from what’s seen on video.

“What did he perceive? Did he not see her hands? Did he for some reason assume — girl or not — that the subject was shooting at the deputies?” Obayashi said. “We don’t even know if he might have thought this was the suspect.”

Journalist Joey Scott received the video and audio from the Sheriff’s Department 18 months after he filed his first request under the California Public Records Act in September 2022. The footage and his reporting were published in the Guardian.

“I believe in accountability. I believe in transparency. This is one of the efforts in which to do so,” said Scott, who received assistance from the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition in his efforts to obtain the video from the Sheriff’s Department.

“This type of footage can exonerate cops and it can also show what really happened. Even in watching these videos, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Scott said. “But it’s clear from the footage in this case that she did not need to die.”

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