The California state Justice Department is investigating after a police pursuit involving an adult murder suspect and an Amber Alert subject ended with the minor’s death under murky circumstances east of Los Angeles on Tuesday.
San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus initially said that the minor, 15-year-old Savannah Graziano, had likely been shooting at deputies and was clad in “tactical gear.” But on Wednesday, the department turned over its investigation to state authorities, as is required to do when an unarmed civilian is shot and killed by law enforcement.
The state’s attorney general’s office believes Savannah was likely unarmed, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. The office confirmed in a statement that it was reviewing the incident in accordance with Assembly Bill 1506, a 2020 law covering officer-involved shootings.
The girl’s father, Anthony John Graziano, was also shot dead at the scene after having led police on a lengthy highway chase in a white pickup truck.
Graziano, 45, was suspected of murdering his estranged wife Monday morning in a crime allegedly witnessed by his daughter.
The entire tragic incident has attracted controversy on social media after a local news station credulously recounted the sheriff’s version of events, describing the likelihood that Savannah was unarmed as a “stunning new twist.” It sparked renewed discussion on whether news media is generally too deferential to law enforcement, as it remains unclear whether Savannah was actually leaping out of the truck in order to seek help from the police when they ― perhaps mistakenly ― shot her.
The Amber Alert issued for Savannah on Monday described her as having been kidnapped by her father, and cautioned that he was “armed and dangerous.”
In a Wednesday press conference, Sheriff Dicus said the police chase began when a resident spotted the white truck described in the alert around 10 a.m., prompting deputies to respond. Graziano then allegedly began firing at the deputies, hitting their windshield and disabling one police vehicle as he sped off. A firefight eventually ensued near an exit, and that’s when Graziano’s truck finally came to a halt.
At that time, the sheriff said, “a subject exit[ed] the passenger side of the vehicle wearing tactical gear” including what appeared to be a bulletproof vest and “tactical helmet.”
“That subject starts to run toward sheriff’s deputies and, during the gunfire, goes down,” Dicus said, adding that there was allegedly evidence that she had been “a participant” in the exchange of gunfire with deputies.
The chase stretched some 35 miles along a desert highway east of Los Angeles, near the town of Hesperia, according to The Associated Press.
Savannah’s mother, Tracy Martinez, identified Graziano as the one who shot her Monday before she died of her wounds, the AP reported, citing Fontana Police Sgt. Christian Surgent. Martinez had been shot in the town of Fontana, California, outside an elementary school during morning drop-offs.
Savannah had allegedly been sitting in the back seat of the white pickup when her father opened fire on her mother.
Surgent said Graziano and Martinez were in the midst of a divorce and were living separately, with Savannah and her father leaving behind Martinez and a younger child. He cast doubt over whether the teen went willingly with her father or was “actually abducted.”
“We haven’t been able to prove that just yet,” he told the AP.
Dicus had told reporters that an assault-style rifle had been found in the truck after the gunfight came to an end. Graziano was found dead in the driver’s seat, police said.