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California DOJ to Investigate After Deputies Responding to AMBER Alert Fatally Shot Teen Girl Following Gunfight with Murder Suspect Father

Anthony Graziano, Savannah Graziano

The California Highway Patrol released these photos of Anthony Graziano (center), his 15-year-old daughter, Savannah and his truck as part of an AMBER Alert for Savannah on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.

A police shooting that killed the 15-year-old daughter of a murder suspect in California will be investigated by the state Department of Justice under a new law requiring state intervention when a law enforcement officer fatally shoots an unarmed civilian.

Savannah Graziano was the subject of an AMBER Alert when San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus says deputies shot her as she emerged from her father’s truck wearing body armor after a freeway chase and gunfight in the desert city Hesperia.

Deputies had been following Anthony Graziano’s white 2017 Nissan Frontier for miles after a citizen aware of its wanted status reported seeing it near Barstow about 10:25 a.m. Tuesday. Police about 90 miles south in the city of Fontana had identified the 45-year-old Graziano as a suspect in the murder of his estranged wife, who is Savannah’s mother.

The alert issued about 1:30 p.m. Monday by the California Highway Patrol said he’d abducted Savannah, who was last seen with him about 7:30 a.m. that day. It described Graziano as “armed and dangerous,” and Dicus said he fired upon deputies “immediately” upon them contacting him Tuesday, “putting several rounds through the windshield on the patrol unit” and later disabling with gunfire a second patrol unit that had tried to join the chase.

The sheriff said Savannah was fatally shot after deputies tried to contain her father’s truck in a triangular area between the Interstate 15 and a freeway bridge and offramp. A firefight ensued before the truck stopped and Savannah exited, but Dicus said Tuesday deputies didn’t know it was her as she “starts to run towards sheriff’s deputies and during the gunfire goes down.” They realized who she was after they shot her, Dicus said, then opened a door to the truck and found her father dead in the driver’s seat.

“As deputies go up and to render aid and realize this is Savannah in the tactical gear, they immediately transport her to a  local area hospital,” Dicus said. “At 11:52 hours, Savannah was pronounced deceased.”

Dicus also said “there may be some indications” that Savannah “may been involved in some of the fire exchange” but said he didn’t know if she was armed when police fatally shot her.

“It is so early in this investigation, folks,” the sheriff said during a press conference. “This is highly complex.”

San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus at a press conference on Tuesday, September 29, 2022. (screenshot from sheriff’s office video)

The next day, Dicus said in a video posted to social media that “based on the information, evidence suggests that Savannah Graziano was a participant in shooting at our deputies.” But he didn’t say anything about her being armed when she was killed, and he announced a move that indicates she wasn’t: “Based on the totality of events and the regiments of Assembly Bill 1506, I have consulted with the (state) Department of Justice about assuming the primary role for this investigation,” Dicus said. “If in fact the requirements for AB 1506 are met and they take the lead, any additional updates will be released by Cal DOJ.”

Signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sept. 30, 2020, AB 1506 mandates that the state Attorney’s General Office investigate, also known as the state Department of Justice, through a new unit “incidents of an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of an unarmed civilian.” The core requirements are that the person shot and killed by police be a civilian and be unarmed. Similar protocols are in place in other states, including New Jersey, where “any discharge of a firearm by a law enforcement officer in the course of his or her duties, regardless of whether the shooting resulted in death,” is subject to investigation.

Later on Wednesday, the California Attorney General’s Office announced it was taking over the investigation.

“Following notification by local authorities, the California Department of Justice’s California Police Shooting Investigation Team for Southern California initiated its protocols for AB 1506 incidents,” according to a news release. “Alongside other law enforcement partners, the California Department of Justice is investigating. Once the investigation has been completed, it will be turned over to the California Department of Justice’s Special Prosecutions Section within the Criminal Law Division for independent review.”

(Images: California Highway Patrol, screenshot from San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office video)

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A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.