Deputies fatally shoot kidnapped teen in newly released video captured by father

Deputies fatally shoot kidnapped teen in newly released video captured by father

As a high-speed chase-turned-standoff unfolded along a Southern California highway in 2022, a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy instructed a young female passenger to exit the white 2017 Nissan Frontier and come toward him.

The deputies and other law enforcement had caught up to Anthony Graziano, 45, who one day earlier had kidnapped his 15-year-old daughter, Savannah, and fled shortly after being suspected of killing his estranged wife.

“Come to me! Come to me! Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk,” the deputy is heard instructing Savannah, according to newly released audio of the encounter. Seconds later, the deputy is heard frantically calling off others.

“Hey! Stop!” the deputy is heard saying. “Stop shooting her, he’s in the car! Stop!”

It was too late, and Savannah had been fatally shot.

Now, the newly released video and audio recordings from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, obtained by public records requests before the agency posted them online, have clarified a long-standing question that had loomed over the fatal incident for the past 18 months — and raised several new ones.

The sheriff’s department on Tuesday declined to comment further on the case and referred questions to the California Department of Justice, which is investigating the shooting. The department previously said it would investigate whether the responding deputies followed shooting protocol. The state DOJ declined to discuss the case Tuesday and referred reporters to a 2022 news release announcing the investigation.

In the hours that followed the Sept. 27, 2022, shooting in the high desert city of Hesperia, San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials, citing preliminary information, had described Savannah as a “participant” and suggested she possibly fired at deputies as they approached her father’s car.

The recordings provide a glimpse into how differently the deputies on the ground and in the air viewed the unfolding scene, and how there came to be confusion about Savannah’s role.

Before the shooting came an Amber Alert for the teenage girl and a highway chase once she was spotted west of Barstow. A gas station attendant called police to report that he had sold two sodas to Savannah and had seen her get into the Graziano’s pickup truck, according to the video.

As Graziano sped down a highway, he shot at patrol cars, disabling one, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said during a news conference the day of the incident. At times, Graziano sped more than 113 mph down the highway, according to a deputy on the radio.

Well into the chase, a deputy reported on the radio seeing shots fired from the passenger window. Helicopter units reported seeing shots fired from the driver’s side window.

A witness who was driving on the highway also reported seeing shots fired from the passenger side.

“It must have been someone else because someone was still driving the truck,” the witness said, according to an audio recording released by the sheriff’s department.

In the produced video the sheriff’s department put together, the agency noted that this is not confirmation that shots were fired from the passenger side, and said investigators are still looking into whether that happened.

After failing to crest an embankment, Graziano found himself trapped, and a firefight began. As bullets flew, Savannah — wearing a plate vest and a tactical helmet — exited her father’s vehicle.

A deputy is heard calling Savannah to come to him, according to audio captured by a belt recording from the deputy who was standing closest to the girl. But as the girl approaches, other deputies begin to fire. The deputy yells that Savannah’s father is still in the vehicle and tells them to stop shooting.

“She’s okay! He’s in the car … stop,” the deputy said. He was too late: Savannah was fatally wounded, and was taken to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Her father died at the scene.

The release of the Graziano shooting footage comes as the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is already facing intense scrutiny from a shooting last month in which deputies killed a 15-year-old boy with autism.

Two deputies fatally shot Ryan Gainer at his home after the teen came at a deputy with a gardening hoe. Footage of the encounter was released March 13 and drew anger in the community, as well as rebuke from Gainer’s family.

“I get it,” DeWitt Lacy, an attorney for the Gainer family, told The Washington Post in March. “It may have been unnerving for an officer, but that doesn’t mean [they] get to shoot a 15-year-old dead.”

While there was body-camera footage from the Gainer shooting, San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies did not have the technology in 2022; only aerial video captured from a helicopter exists of the Graziano incident. After several delays, the department rolled out a body-camera program — making it the last sheriff’s departments in the region to do so.

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