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A 27-year-old woman who called 911 for help was fatally shot by an LA deputy

Niani Finlayson, who was killed by a deputy in her Lancaster, Calif., home, according to officials and her family's lawyer, is seen with her daughter, Xiasha Davis, in a photo provided by Finlayson's mother.
Tracie Hall
Niani Finlayson, who was killed by a deputy in her Lancaster, Calif., home, according to officials and her family's lawyer, is seen with her daughter, Xiasha Davis, in a photo provided by Finlayson's mother.

Niani Finlayson, a 27-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy responding to a domestic violence call, authorities said Thursday. The same deputy killed another person in a similar incident three years ago.

On Dec. 4, Finlayson called 911 "to report that her boyfriend would not leave her alone and then screaming and sounds of a struggle could be heard," according to a report released by the sheriff's department.

Finlayson and her 9-year-old daughter were being attacked by the mother's former boyfriend and needed help, according to Bradley Gage, a lawyer for Finlayson's family.

When deputies arrived at her apartment in Lancaster, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) said, Finlayson opened the front door and was threatening her boyfriend with a "large kitchen knife"; she told deputies her boyfriend had pushed her daughter. The boyfriend was not named by officials.

"Finlayson grabbed her boyfriend while holding the knife in an apparent attempt to stab him, and a deputy-involved shooting occurred," the LASD said. "Finlayson was struck by gunfire, fell to the floor, and dropped the knife."

Finlayson's family disputes the sheriff's department account of what happened

The family's lawyer disputed the department's account of the incident in a notice of their plan to file a lawsuit against the county and the sheriff's department, alleging wrongful death, assault and civil rights violations.

According to the family's lawyer, Bradley Gage, Finlayson was a victim of domestic violence and was not threatening anyone when deputies shot her in the back from behind a glass door. Deputies performed first aid on Finlayson until the paramedics arrived, according to the LASD. She was then transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Finlayson died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the county medical examiner. Homicide was listed as the manner of death. An autopsy has not yet been publicly released.

"Rather than coming to her aid, they wound up shooting and killing her," Gage said in a press conference on Thursday. The family is seeking $30 million in damages and legal fees.

As of Thursday night, the sheriff's department said that it had not received the claim. The district attorney's office will review the incident to determine whether any criminal charges will be filed and whether the shooting was legal, it added.

Body camera footage of the incident will be released by next week, according to the LASD.

The deputy was involved in a similar shooting incident in 2020

The sheriff's department identified the deputy involved in the shooting as Ty Shelton. Shelton is the same deputy who shot and killed Michael Thomas, a 61-year-old Black man, in June 2020. Shelton had been responding to a domestic violence call at a home in Lancaster. Thomas refused to open the door to the deputies when they arrived, according to the LA district attorney's office. Gage, who had also represented the Thomas family at the time, said that he was unarmed and that there was no reason for Thomas to be detained. None of the deputies involved had been issued body-worn cameras.

The DA'S office concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove Shelton acted unlawfully when using deadly force against Thomas.

Activists are pointing to Finlayson's death as an example of persistent police brutality against Black people, a cause that drove a wave of large protests for equality and racial justice in 2020.

"We know as Black people how hard it is to call for 911," Waunette Cullors, director for Cancel the Contract, a local coalition that calls for the end of law enforcement violence and racism, said at a vigil held for Finlayson last week. "She called thinking that she was going to help. She thought that she was going to get someone to defuse the situation, deescalate the situation, but that's not what happened."

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