Deputies Damned If They Didn’t & Now Equally Damned That They Did

A homicidal maniac’s rampage that began in Fontana and remanifested a day later in Barstow to continue across a swathe of the High Desert put local law enforcement agencies into a no-win position on Monday and Tuesday, ending in the gunman’s death and creating a situation in which his 15-year-old daughter was extinguished in the violent miasma that consumed her mother and father.
The entire incident involved, both as it was ongoing and in its aftermath, confusion as to fact and circumstance, an element that lent itself to the fatal outcome.
Some salient and reliable details can be plucked from the uncertain narrative that has shifted multiple times since the first reports of mayhem that 45-year-old Anthony John Graziano perpetrated in Fontana, where as recently as three months ago he was living with his wife, Tracy Martinez, 45, and the couple’s 15-year-old daughter, Savannah, and their 11-year-old son, Caleb.What is known is that the parent of a child who attends Cypress Elementary School in Fontana at about 7:30 a.m. on Monday phoned in a 9-1-1 report of a shooting which was witnessed by several parents and students as those children, some as young as five years old, were walking to or being escorted to school.
With some slight deviation, those witnesses said Graziano, in a white 2017 Nissan Frontier pickup truck, later identified as bearing California license plates 44305G2, aimed a fusillade of a half dozen to a dozen shots at a minivan, which swerved and went into the curb on Cypress Avenue near Mallory Drive, bringing it to an abrupt halt and perhaps disabling it. The Nissan Frontier continued down the road about 50 to 75 feet, where Graziano made a U-turn and went back toward the minivan.
At that point, Gonzales was opening the door to the minivan. Graziano drove part of the distance toward the minivan, pulled over and got out of the Frontier and began moving with purpose toward his wife, who had yet to emerge from the minivan. Gonzales threw open the door and bolted, seeking to elude Graziano, who calmly and confidently moved toward her and discharged his handgun at the fleeing Gonzales, who stumbled to the ground when she was hit by the gunfire. Some of those shots hit other cars that were parked or stopped in the area, including ones occupied by parents taking their children to school. A few parents with their children who were walking to school or who had emerged from their cars before the shooting began ducked for cover. At least two vehicles with parents and children still in them raced away.
Graziano continued to step toward the fallen woman, and from a short distance away, pumped at least two more shots into her as she was sprawled on the ground. Graziano then calmly returned to the Frontier and drove off.
The Fontana Police Department responded to a call of shots fired in the vicinity of Cypress Elementary School. Martinez was found, alive and barely conscious. She was able to identify Graziano as her assailant. She was transported to a local trauma center, where she was pronounced dead.
An all points bulletin was issued for Graziano.
Graziano and Martinez had a son together, and Graziano had a son from a previous relationship. Both were located and were determined to be okay and not involved or knowledgeable about the shooting.
Graziano was reported to be in the company of his and Martinez’s 15-year-old daughter. An Amber Alert was issued for them, based upon Graziano’s 2017 Nissan Frontier pickup truck, which was further identified by its six digit and single letter license plates, along with physical descriptions of both Anthony John Graziano and his daughter, Savannah.
Law enforcement communications, the Sentinel has learned, contained multiple points of misinformation. That included that Graziano had encountered Savannah walking down the street shortly after the shooting occurred and had abducted her by taking her into his vehicle; and that he was hiding in an area straddling the municipal and unincorporated county area of Fontana. The Fontana Police Department put out that Savannah had been kidnapped, despite a witness having stated that the girl had been in the Nissan Frontier at the time the shooting of Martinez had occurred. It was the indication that Savannah had been taken against her will that triggered the Amber Alert.
Graziano remained at large for more than 24 hours, but at 10:25 a.m. Tuesday September 27, a 911 call-in response to the Amber Alert came into San Bernardino County’s Desert Dispatch Center, reporting that Graziano’s vehicle was seen in the vicinity of Barstow.
One responding deputy spotted the Nissan Frontier near the junction of highways 395 and 58 near Barstow, and gave chase.
“As a result of that pursuit, the suspect immediately starts firing at our deputies, putting several rounds through the windshield of the patrol unit,” San Bernardino County Shannon Dicus told the media on the afternoon of September 27. While other sheriff’s units were responding to that location, Graziano drove off. The pursuit continued, Dicus said, “on Highway 58 to I-15 in the area of Lenwood, where a second unit is involved, the suspect firing back at our deputies the entire time… causing,” Dicus said, a second pursuing “vehicle to become disabled. The pursuit continues down I-15, towards the Victorville/Hesperia area, constantly shooting back at the deputies during that period of time. As they get into the area of Main Street… the southwest corner of Main where it intersects the I-15, it appears the suspect went off-road. The deputies attempt to contain the suspect in the triangle that’s made by the offramp, the I-15 Freeway and the Main Street Bridge that goes over the top. As a result of that, a firefight ensued. During that firefight, the suspect vehicle comes to rest, at which time a subject exits the passenger side of the vehicle wearing tactical gear. That subject starts to run towards sheriff’s deputies and during the gunfire goes down. Sheriff’s deputies immediately go to clear the vehicle, so that they could… make it safe and render medical aid, at which time they contact the subject wearing the tactical gear, and we believe that both the suspect in the vehicle and the person that’s contacted with the tactical gear, that that person is our 15-year-old juvenile, Savannah. The suspect, we believe, is Graziano in the driver’s seat of the car. This all still needs to be confirmed and is preliminary information, and we will confirm it through the coroner’s office. But as the deputies go up and render medical aid and realize that this is Savannah in the tactical gear, they immediately transport her to a local area hospital. At 11:52 hours, Savannah is pronounced deceased. Preliminarily, there may be some indications that the passenger of the vehicle, which we believe was Savannah, may have been also involved in some of the fire exchange. There may be some information that the passenger was involved in firing back at the deputies and we’re still trying to confirm that at this point.”
Dicus said that one of his department’s aircraft, a helicopter, was hovering in the air above Graziano’s pickup truck for most of the incident, having arrived on the scene when the pursuit was yet ongoing in the Barstow area. He indicated that video footage taken from the helicopter might assist in the investigation of the incident.
Dicus said that most of fire returned by the deputies occurred in Hesperia but that there may have been exchange of fire near Barstow.
Savannah, Dicus said, was “described as running toward the deputies” just before she was shot. He described the tactical gear she was wearing as “a plate carrier on front and [a] tactical helmet.”
Asked how Graziano was armed, Dicus said, “The only weapon we’re able to confirm right now is a rifle taken from the suspect vehicle.”
Late in the day and into the evening of September 27, there was biting criticism of the sheriff’s department, much of it to the effect that at least some of the law enforcement action had been contexted on an effort to save Savannah Graziano from her father, who had gone renegade, but that the deputies had overreacted in the heat of the moment, killing the girl they were acting so aggressively to save. Without getting pointedly defensive to that criticism or responding directly to it, the sheriff’s department did make some further releases of information on Wednesday, one of which suggested that the firepower that had been vectored at the deputies while Graziano made his futile flight southward during the last hour of his and his daughter’s life had been unleashed by Savannah.
The California Attorney General’s Office is undertaking a separate investigation of what occurred.
Emerging information from sources other than the sheriff’s department, in particular the Fontana Police Department and other elements of the Fontana community, confirmed portions of the initial reports about what had occurred but contradicted other elements of the story.
The sheriff’s department was functioning, at least partially, on the basis of that erroneous information.
Fontana officials initially insisted Savannah was not present when her mother was gunned down and had been “abducted” by her father, even though a witness who was interviewed on Monday had placed her in the Nissan Frontier. It is now known that video footage from two cameras – one shot by a bystander with his cell phone and another from a doorbell camera – clearly demonstrated that Martinez’s 15-year-old daughter was in the pickup truck when Graziano shot her.
One of those videos showed her inside the truck roughly 30 seconds prior to and the other about one minute before Anthony Graziano first began shooting at his estranged wife.
At least two witness located by Wednesday corroborated in large measure what a witness had said on Monday, which was that Savannah Graziano was in the back seat of the cab compartment of the Frontier when the shooting took place. Witnesses said the girl seemed impassive as her mother was shot.
Also revealed on Wednesday was that Savannah had accompanied her father in late July or early August when he moved out of the home he had previously shared with Martinez, their daughter and their son.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident on Tuesday, Dicus had alluded to the possible availability of video footage taken from the vantage of the sheriff’s department helicopter that had shadowed the Nissan Frontier in its southward progression, all the way from Barstow to the end of the line for Anthony and Savannah Graziano in Hesperia. He had remained uninformative and indeed mute about the evidence that the department would be able to marshal in the form of bodyworn videos shot from the perspective of the pursuing officers and, especially, the ones that had been involved in the firefight near the Main Street exit on the shoulder of the 15 Freeway.
Dicus was appointed sheriff to succeed John McMahon in July 2021, following McMahon’s decision to retire before completing his second elected term as sheriff last year. Dicus stood for election this year in his own right and proved victorious. One of the key elements of Dicus’s ultimate electoral victory this year was his verbal commitment to departmental transparency. Bolstering that commitment was a previous promise, made shortly after his appointment in the Summer of 2021, that by year’s end his department would iron out certain technical glitches that existed with the bodyworn camera systems that the county had invested in so that all of the department’s deputies would be videoing from their perspective their activity in the field and their encounters with the public in general and both criminal suspects and arrestees specifically. Dicus said that the bodyworn camera system would be up and running no later than December, 2021.
It turns out, despite Dicus’s expressed anticipation and the assumption that the cameras were functioning as of the end of last year, the bodyworn cameras are not up and running. Accordingly, the video footage that might very well have shown that the deputies confronting the deranged Graziano had acted reasonably given the entirety of the circumstance, does not exist.
Investigators with the Fontana Police Department were able to search the Fontana home where Graziano, Martinez, Savannah and her brother lived, as well as Anthony Graziano’s storage unit. Therein they found rifles, including two semi-automatics and one that appeared to be automatic, handguns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, smoke and concussion grenades and plenty of tactical gear. All but the automatic gun and the concussion grenades appeared to have been legally obtained and in Graziano’s possession.
The Sentinel was able to find that Graziano had a single criminal conviction, a misdemeanor recorded in 2009 for vandalism stemming from a 2003 incident. Thus, Graziano had no parole or probation issues that would have prevented him from purchasing legal firearms.
-Mark Gutglueck

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