San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department admits it killed teen hostage. Why did it take so long?

Diptych of Savannah Graziano, 15, left, and her father, Anthony Graziano
Savannah Graziano, 15, left, was fatally shot by a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy in 2022 during a botched rescue attempt after she was abducted by her father, Anthony Graziano, right.
(Fontana Police Department)

For the first time in nearly two years, the public heard the voice of a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy plead with his fellow officers to stop shooting at a 15-year-old girl on the side of a California highway in broad daylight.

The audio was released more than 500 days after a sheriff’s deputy fatally shot Savannah Graziano. The teen had been abducted the day before by her father, Anthony Graziano, who shot and killed Tracy Martinez — Savannah’s mother and his estranged wife — in Fontana during a domestic dispute near Cypress Elementary School.

Both Anthony and Savannah Graziano were killed on Sept. 27, 2022, and officials have provided little information about their deaths.


Video and audio released Friday to independent journalist Joey Scott show the events leading up to a violent shootout on the 15 Freeway and verify that the teen was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy. They also show that San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus mischaracterized important aspects of the case in his public comments in the aftermath of Savannah’s shooting — mischaracterizations that the department never sought to correct.

The Sheriff’s Department declined any follow-up questions about the release of information in the Graziano case, which is under investigation by the California Department of Justice.

“My hope is that this video will be watched in its entirety and provide insight into the unfortunate events that unfolded that day,” Dicus said in reference to the incident video released by his department Friday. “There has been speculation and misrepresentations about this case, and I would ask the public to allow the DOJ to complete its independent investigation before reaching a conclusion.”

VIDEO | 14:57
Newly released video footage shows San Bernardino deputies fatally shoot abducted teen

The day after the shooting, Dicus said that Savannah had run toward deputies before she was shot, implying that she may have posed a threat. But Savannah’s last steps were cautious, according to helicopter footage in a 15-minute incident video narrated by the Sheriff’s Department. Savannah seemed to crouch near the ground after getting out of her father’s white truck. The nameless deputy heard in the audio shouts to her amid the sound of gunshots just before she is shot by another deputy.

Dicus also said after the incident that sheriff’s investigators determined Savannah “was a participant in shooting at our deputies” during the high-speed pursuit that preceded her death. In the video, however, the department walked back that claim, saying the question of whether Savannah fired at deputies was still being investigated.


In a statement on Friday, Dicus said he spoke to the media after the shooting “to maintain transparency throughout the process.”

Dicus asked the California Department of Justice to investigate the shooting under Assembly Bill 1506, which authorizes the state to review a shooting in which an officer is involved to determine whether their actions were justified.

Scott, whose reporting first appeared in the Guardian, requested information from San Bernardino County under the California Public Records Act in October 2022. For a year and a half, he repeatedly received the same response from the department: The information was part of an ongoing investigation, and he would be provided an update at a later time.

On Friday, when the county released several videos about the shooting — an edited video summarizing the events that led up to the shooting and unedited video footage from a helicopter and surveillance videos — those were accompanied by a statement saying the county hadn’t been able to provide all of the evidence sooner because of a ransomware attack in April 2023 that also hindered its ability to provide information to the California Department of Justice.

The fatal shooting of a 17-year-old, who was armed with a knife, is the second in less than a month in which deputies shot and killed a teenager experiencing a mental health crisis.

April 3, 2024

“Despite extensive and ongoing efforts to resolve this issue, much of the data remained inaccessible,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that accompanied the release of the documents. All of the information that state investigators sought has since been made available to them.

Police transparency laws such as 2018’s Senate Bill 1421 and Assembly Bill 748 require the disclosure of records related to police shootings, certain uses of force and any information regarding the injury or death of a person by an officer. But there is often resistance from law enforcement agencies to release the information.


“The public has a right to the full story, not just the official story,” said David Loy, legal director with the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition.

The organization provided legal advice to Scott and threatened to file a lawsuit as he sought records from the Sheriff’s Department. While there have been many questions swirling around the Graziano case, the one aspect that’s clear is that sheriff’s deputies were involved in a shooting and that warrants the disclosure of information, Loy said.

There are legal reasons for withholding documents, Loy said, such as potential harm to a confidential source. But the law does not allow a police agency to withhold records simply by saying there is an investigation.

“Once the shooting had occurred, tragic as it was, there were no further witnesses to be interviewed, there were no confidential sources. It was an incident that happened in broad daylight on I-15,” he added.

Law enforcement responded five times this year to the Apple Valley home of a 15-year-old with autism who was fatally shot by deputies over the weekend, San Bernardino County Sheriff officials said.

March 14, 2024

Police agencies should allow members of the public to make up their minds rather than withhold vital information, Loy said.

“I’m not here to take a position on whether this is a legally justified shooting. But law enforcement officers work for the people, not the other way around,” he said. “They are public servants. We pay their salaries just like garbage workers or planners or clerks. And so the public has a right to, in effect, audit their performance.”


The Department of Justice declined to comment on the investigation, referring a Times reporter to a September 2022 news release about the investigation.

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is being kept updated by the Sheriff’s Department on all external investigations into the county, according to David Wert, a county spokesperson.

“Based on the information provided, it appears that the sheriff is managing these situations appropriately,” Wert said.

The Sheriff’s Department has not released the names of the deputies involved in the shooting.