Troubling questions emerge after shootout involving deputies that left Fontana teen and her fugitive father dead – Daily News
Fontana police detectives were working Wednesday with San Bernardino County sheriff’s investigators to solve a central question in the death of 15-year-old Savannah Graziano, who was felled a day earlier by gunfire as she ran from a car and through a battle between her father and deputies on the 15 Freeway in Hesperia.
“They will try to determine … if Savannah willingly went with her father after our homicide or was in fact, kidnapped by him,” Sgt. Christian Surgent, a Fontana police spokesman, said Wednesday, Sept. 28.
The teen’s mother, Tracy Martinez, 45, told police with one of her last breaths Monday that her estranged husband, Anthony John Graziano, had shot her during a domestic dispute, Surgent said. They were in his Nissan Frontier on Cypress Avenue when she bolted from the car. Graziano, 45, chased her down and shot her dead.
Graziano then picked up or abducted his daughter and drove to the High Desert. On Tuesday, someone spotted the Nissan in Barstow and called 911. Deputies chased the car south on the 15 Freeway, exchanging gunfire along the way, until they reached the Main Street exit in Hesperia. There, the Nissan stopped and the gunfight resumed. Savannah Graziano, who Sheriff Shannon Dicus said was unrecognizable to deputies because she was wearing chest armor and a tactical helmet, ran from the car toward them.
Among the other key questions expected in the investigation: Whose bullets struck the teenager? Why was she wearing the protection? Had she, as Dicus said was a possibility, fired on deputies during the pursuit? And as she exited the car, was she threatening deputies or simply attempting to flee to safety?
“This investigation is going to take at least 24 hours before we’re able to provide you with more information as to what happened and exactly what the circumstances are as it relates to the officer-involved (shooting),” Dicus said at a news conference Tuesday.
The Sheriff’s Department did nothing publicly Wednesday to counter the rising tumult on social media. One poster who said he would wait for more information before forming an opinion about the teen’s shooting was drowned out by accusations of, at best, recklessness by the deputies to, at worst, murder.
A request for an interview with Dicus was not granted Wednesday. Nor would the department answer basic questions about what form the investigation into the shooting would take or what investigators hoped to still learn in a case in which the only three people involved are dead.
“We are unable to provide any additional information until we get an update from our investigators,” said Gloria Huerta, a department spokeswoman.
Surgent said Fontana police had not responded to any domestic violence incidents involving the Grazianos. Detectives are looking for more witnesses to that slaying and are attempting to determine an exact motive.
“The family still wants to know,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Department is conducting two investigations, said Jacquelyn Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office. One is to determine whether deputies’ actions were within department policy. The second is to ascertain whether deputies violated any laws. A report on that investigation will be sent to the DA’s office for consideration of charges.
It’s unclear how much video evidence will be available to investigators. At the news conference, Dicus referenced video filmed by a sheriff’s helicopter above the pursuit but made no mention of body-worn cameras, which patrol deputies were supposed to receive by the end of last winter.
“This is not going to be answered quickly. This is a complicated case,” said Jim Bueermann, a former Redlands police chief who is now a policing consultant as well as a liaison to police departments seeking training and technical assistance from the federal Department of Justice.
“They’re going to look at what did the deputies believe was happening at the time they were shooting. If they are taking fire from inside the vehicle and someone gets out with tactical gear and they did not recognize her as a kidnap victim, then the question ultimately becomes was it reasonable for them to believe she had a weapon.
“The challenge for the Sheriff’s Department is trying to convince people how confusing and chaotic the situation was, and that they are going to do a competent investigation,” Bueermann said.