Fri. May 24th, 2024

Police killed Niani Finlayson seconds after responding to her 911 call, video shows

Video shows moments before police killed Niani Finlayson seconds after responding to her 911 call

Body camera reveals Los Angeles deputy fired at woman who sought help for domestic violence as nine-year-old daughter watched

The Los Angeles sheriff’s department (LASD) released body-camera footage on Friday of an officer fatally shooting Niani Finlayson, 27, who had called 911 for help during a domestic violence incident.

The footage from the 4 December encounter showed that deputy Ty Shelton shot Finlayson four times within roughly three seconds of entering her home.

The killing in Lancaster, a city in north Los Angeles county, sparked national outrage last week, with civil rights activists questioning why deputies failed to de-escalate the conflict and instead used fatal force against a woman who had sought their assistance and was a victim of abuse.

The LASD released audio from the 911 call, which captured Finlayson shouting: “He won’t get out of my house … He will not leave me alone … I need the police here right now.” She could be heard screaming and repeatedly telling a man to get off her. Her family’s lawyer has said the man was her former boyfriend.

Body-camera footage from two deputies showed that when they arrived outside the apartment, they could hear a woman screaming from inside. When Finlayson opened the door, her nine-year-old daughter was standing next to her and appeared to tell the officers that the man had hurt her – seemingly saying that he had “punched” or “pushed” her, although the LASD distorted the daughter’s voice and her comments aren’t clearly discernible.

Finlayson appeared to be holding a kitchen knife and seemed to saythe ex-boyfriend had attacked them, saying: “I’m about to stab him because” he had hurt her daughter. A female deputy entered the home first, and Finlayson and her ex moved to the opposite end of the room. Shelton followed inside a moment later and fired four shots at Finlayson almost as soon as he entered.

Shelton fired at Finlayson as her daughter stood nearby. The daughter ran into the kitchen after he fired the shots and her mother collapsed on the ground. The ex screamed: “No, no, why did you shoot?” The LASD did not release footage of the aftermath. The video showed that Shelton had entered with a Taser in one hand and a firearm in the other, but it did not appear that he or the two other deputies on scene used any “less lethal” weapons or other tactics to de-escalate the situation before Shelton fatally shot Finlayson.

The LASD said in a statement that Finlayson was later taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Her ex, whom police did not name, became “resistive”, the LASD said, and was arrested for child abuse and assault on a police officer, but was later released pending further investigation. Finlayson’s family has said that he had injured her and her daughter.

This was not Shelton’s first fatal shooting. On 11 June 2020, the deputy killed Michael Thomas, 61, also while responding to a call for potential domestic violence. That killing was not caught on camera, but Thomas’s girlfriend later said she and Thomas had been having a verbal argument and that Thomas had tried to stop the officers from entering his home. It was weeks after George Floyd’s murder, and his family said he had been frightened police would kill him. Thomas was unarmed and Shelton shot him in the chest. He was not prosecuted.

Relatives of Finlayson filed a claim against the LASD and LA county last week. Finlayson’s nine-year-old daughter, Xaisha, who was present during the shooting and could be seen in the footage, told reporters: “She was my best friend. She was always there for me. It’s very unbelievable that she’s gone and not coming back. I miss my mom.”

She also said: “The police lied that my mom was threatening them.”

Niani Finlayson and her daughter, Xaisha. Photograph: Courtesy of Bradley Gage

Tracie Hall, Finlayson’s mother, said last week that her daughter had been working to become a nurse and an in-home care service worker. She called on Shelton to be fired and prosecuted: “He should not be allowed to roam free and continue to have a job.”

Finlayson’s killing was the latest in a string of incidents involving LA sheriffs in the Lancaster region using extreme force against Black women. In June, a deputy was filmed throwing a woman to the ground outside a store, and the LASD released footage the following month showing a deputy punching a woman in the face as she held her newborn.

In a statement on Friday, the LASD said the deputy, whom the department previously identified as Shelton, had been removed from the field as an investigation continues, in line with standard policy. The shooting would be reviewed by prosecutors, the medical examiner and the inspector general’s office, the LASD said, adding: “Every deputy-involved shooting is traumatic for all involved and each incident has its unique set of circumstances and complexities … The department will examine and evaluate every aspect of the shooting including the response, tactics, and background of the employee.”

LA county sheriff Robert Luna added in a statement: “As the comprehensive review process continues the department will gain additional insight into the incident with the goal of improving public safety.”

On Wednesday, advocates organized a Standing 4 Black Girls protest outside an LASD station, calling for justice for Finlayson.

Waunette Cullors, director of Cancel the Contract, a local advocacy group that is assisting Finlayson’s family, questioned why the deputy opened fire so quickly. Cancel the Contract went to the sheriff’s station to view the body-cam footage.

“Knowing they were responding to a domestic violence call from a mother in fear for her life, they showed no concern and did not act safely,” she said in an email, adding that Shelton should be fired and decertified so that he cannot be rehired as an officer. “Why is it that when a Black person calls the police for help in desperation, she is treated as the suspect? This was cold blooded murder.”


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