‘She Was the Victim’: Black Woman Called Police for Help. Los Angeles Cop Shot Her Dead In Front of Her Child Instead, Attorneys Say
The family of Niani Finlayson is reportedly set to file a lawsuit after a sheriff’s deputy fatally shot Finlayson in front of her 9-year-old daughter as deputies responded to a domestic violence call.
The L.A. Times reports that Finlayson’s family filed a claim indicating they plan to sue Los Angeles County and its sheriff’s department for $30 million, alleging wrongful death, assault, and civil rights violations.
This is in direct response to an incident involving deputy Ty Shelton, who shot 27-year-old Finlayson on Dec. 4. That evening, Finlayson called police to report that “her boyfriend would not leave her alone.” Deputies also stated that screaming and sounds of a struggle could be heard over the call.
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When they arrived at an apartment in Lancaster, responding deputies could hear screaming. Deputies reported that when they tried to force their way into the apartment, Finlayson opened the door armed with a knife and told them she was going to stab her boyfriend for pushing her daughter.
Shelton opened fire and shot the mother of two when she attempted to grab and stab him, according to a department release. She was shot four times and died at a local hospital.
Family attorney Bradley Gage vehemently disputed that account during a press conference on Thursday. Gage said the ex-boyfriend strangled Finlayson and hurt her daughter, so she called police to get him forcibly removed from her apartment.
“Niani was sitting on the ground when she was shot in the back,” Gage told reporters. “She was not engaging in any type of physically threatening behavior at all. In fact, she was the victim.”
Gage has demanded that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department release bodycam video of the shooting and for Shelton to be fired. LASD released a statement revealing their plans to release the footage to the public.
“In the effort of transparency, the department will be releasing the body-worn camera footage of the incident by next week, which is earlier than the required timeframe,” LASD said in a statement. “The department is deeply committed to protecting our diverse communities without bias and prejudice.”
The agency also stated that the shooting is under a “robust review process” to determine whether it was legally justified and whether there is enough evidence to file criminal charges.
Finlayson’s daughter, Xaisha, spoke to reporters at the press conference and recounted part of the ordeal involving Finlayson’s estranged boyfriend. She said she was the one who handed her mother the knife.
“I was there. I know the truth about everything.” the 9-year-old said. “He was hurting my mother and me. I didn’t have [any] choice but to get something sharp.”
Finlayson was working to become a nurse and an in-home care service worker, according to her mother, Tracie Hall. She also designed her own clothes and wanted to make a phone app for children.
Finlayson’s daughter said her 2-year-old sister continues to ask where their mother is.
“She was my best friend. She was always there for me. It’s unbelievable that she’s gone and she’s not coming back. I miss my mom,” Xaisha said.
Shelton, the officer who shot Finlayson, also fatally shot a 61-year-old man in an eerily similar case in 2020. Deputies responding to a domestic violence call, also in Lancaster, attempted to detain Michael Thomas during their encounter with him, but Shelton shot him after deputies said Thomas tried to grab one of their guns. Thomas’ fiancée argued against that report and said Thomas actually refused to let the deputies enter the house and was turning away from them when he was shot.
Prosecutors chose not to file charges against Shelton in that case but admitted “there may have been other reasonable options available” to him instead of killing Thomas.
“This is a case about justice,” Gage said of the shooting case involving Finlayson. “This is a case about protecting the community.”