April 12, 2024

Video shows California police shooting dead teen allegedly kidnapped | California

Newly released law enforcement footage captures the moment California police shot and killed an unarmed 15-year-old girl who was allegedly the victim of a kidnapping.

On September 27, 2022, San Bernardino sheriff’s deputies were searching for Savannah Graziano, who was feared to have been kidnapped by her father Anthony Graziano after he fatally shot her mother the day before.

Officers cornered Anthony Graziano’s vehicle on the side of a highway in Hesperia, 80 miles east of Los Angeles. When Savannah exited the vehicle, they opened fire and killed her. The shooting sparked national concern, with critics questioning how officers ended up killing the teenage girl they were sent to save.

Sheriff’s officials claimed after the shooting that it was unclear whether Savannah was shot by officers or her father, and they said officers did not realize it was her when she got out of the car. For almost two years they refused to release footage of the shooting.

But on Friday, the department disclosed nearly a dozen video files to independent journalist Joey Scott, who had filed records requests 18 months earlier. The clips – which were shared with the Guardian and include helicopter footage – show officers shooting at Savannah as she followed their instructions to approach them. The videos also suggest officers shot her after two officers noticed it was the girl leaving. The video’s images and sheriff’s narration further make it clear that she was killed by officers, not her father.

The sheriff’s department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The footage will increase scrutiny of the police department, which was already under fire after officers killed Ryan Gainer, an autistic 15-year-old boy, last month. Ryan was having a mental episode when he was fatally shot by two deputies within seconds of meeting him. The killing raised concerns about the use of lethal force against children and the failure to de-escalate crises.

The search for Savannah began on September 26, 2022, when her father, officials say, fatally shot her mother (his estranged wife) and shot a father and his child outside a school in nearby Fontana. Authorities issued an Amber Alert for Savannah that day, saying she was suspected of being “kidnapped/taken” by her father.

The next morning, a 911 caller reported seeing Graziano and Savannah’s pickup buying items at a gas station. Police soon found Graziano speeding on a nearby highway, sparking the start of a chaotic chase.

As officers caught up to the vehicle, shots were fired from inside at police, according to the department, which shared photos showing the cars damaged.

The footage released Friday is the first to shed light on what happened next. Filmed by a California Highway Patrol (CHP) helicopter, Anthony Graziano is seen speeding through traffic and officers reaching him after he attempted to drive up an embankment but lost traction.

When the car stopped near officers, the footage shows, Savannah got out of the vehicle, and a CHP officer can be heard on the radio saying, “Girl’s gone, girl’s gone, guys. She’s on the passenger side.’

The video shows her crouching on the ground for about ten seconds and then walking toward a group of about seven deputies, followed by a boom that appears to consist of at least one deputy shooting her, although the Savannah department is currently faded. You hear the CHP coordinator say: “Oh no”.

The officers were not wearing body cameras, but the department also shared audio from the belt of the officer closest to the girl. In that audio, the deputy can be seen shouting, “Passenger, get out!” while gunfire is heard in the background. The deputy then shouts, “Come to me! Come, come, come… walk, walk, walk.”

Then he says, “Hey! Stop! Stop shooting! He’s in the car!” At least four shots are heard in the background after he says to stop. The sheriff’s statement describing that audio said: “You can hear it [a deputy] I called her and told other deputies that the person exiting the truck was the passenger and that they had to stop shooting, but it was too late.

Savannah was pronounced dead at a hospital. Graziano was also shot by officers and died at the scene, although the clips do not make it clear when that happened. It is also unclear how many officers shot Savannah and how many bullets struck her. The department said Savannah was wearing “tactical gear and a helmet” when she left, but the footage does not clearly show her outfit.

It is also unclear from the evidence released last week who fired at police from Graziano’s vehicle. The sheriff’s department has suggested that Graziano shot at officers, and that it is possible Savannah did so as well. The department said “this aspect” of the incident remains under investigation.

One of Savannah’s relatives declined to comment and others could not be reached.

Sharon Brunner, a civil rights attorney from San Bernardino County, reviewed the footage for The Guardian and said it appeared no one was responsible for coordinating the officers’ strategy. She said it was possible there was “contagious” fire, with officers’ own shots encouraging others to shoot. “San Bernardino County is not training law enforcement to properly handle these stressful situations. They have a very brutal approach: shoot first and ask questions later,” she said.

She said better efforts could have been made to gain control of the scene and get Savannah to safety: “It sounds like the wild, wild west and an innocent child lost her life because of it.”

Jim Terrell, another local civil rights attorney, said the case followed the department’s pattern of using “undisciplined firepower.”

“Coverage and assessment are being replaced by fear, anxiety and lots of shots,” he said.

The California Department of Justice is investigating the case under a law that requires investigations into police killings of unarmed people. Officials did not name the officers involved.

The images put even more pressure on an already controversial department. In addition to the killing of Ryan Gainer, the department was criticized after a video last week showed a deputy beating and kneeing a handcuffed man in Hesperia. In December, a deputy was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of cocaine and resigned. Last year, the sheriff’s department also faced lawsuits for wrongful death and wrongful arrest.

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