The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released body camera footage Friday showing the moments leading up to a deputy fatally shooting a 27-year-old Black woman in Lancaster.
Niani Finlayson, who authorities said was armed with a kitchen knife, was shot in front of her 9-year-old daughter on Dec. 4. She had called the police for help during a domestic dispute with a man authorities described as her boyfriend.
The footage released Friday shows that the deputy who shot her was first handed a Taser, but he dropped it and fired a handgun instead.
Investigators are continuing to review the case, which is expected to be sent to the district attorney’s office to determine if any charges will be filed.
“Any time a life is lost, regardless of the circumstances, is a difficult time for everyone involved,” L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna said in a statement. “The department released the body-worn camera footage ahead of the legal time frame to demonstrate our commitment to transparency and the visual representation of the facts in this case. As the comprehensive review process continues, the department will gain additional insight into the incident with the goal of improving public safety.”
Shortly after 6 p.m. on Dec. 4, Finlayson called 911 to report that her boyfriend wouldn’t leave her Lancaster apartment, authorities said. During a frantic call with a police dispatcher, audio of which was released along with the body camera footage, Finlayson said the man would not leave her house or “get his hands off of me.”
Three deputies heard screaming as they approached the apartment in the 2100 block of East Avenue J-8. Body camera video shows one of the deputies attempting to kick in the front door.
The door opens and Finlayson appears — holding what authorities say was an 8-inch kitchen knife.
“I’m going to stab him,” she can be heard telling the deputies before moving out of sight toward the living room.
The body camera video shows a deputy, identified by the department as Ty Shelton, entering the apartment closely behind another deputy. On his way in, Shelton asks the other deputy to give him a Taser.
After deputies moved into the apartment, Finlayson can be seen standing next to a man, with one hand on him and the other appearing to hold a knife. Shelton drops the Taser , raises his handgun and fires four shots at Finlayson.
The man then yells, “Why did you shoot?”
Finlayson was taken to a hospital where she later died. The man was arrested on suspicion of child abuse and assault on a peace officer but was later released, according to the sheriff’s department.
Shelton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Finlayson’s family filed a claim last week signaling they plan to sue the county and the department for $30 million.
“She was not engaging in any type of physically threatening behavior at all,” Bradley Gage, the family’s attorney, said at a news conference Dec. 21. “In fact, she was the victim.”
Shelton was involved in at least one other fatal shooting in Lancaster, according to county records. In 2020, Shelton killed 62-year-old Michael Thomas as he and another deputy tried to detain him during a domestic violence call.
The deputies said Thomas tried to grab one of their guns. His fiancee disputed that, telling a local TV station that Thomas had refused to let the deputies enter the house and was turning away from them when he was shot.
Prosecutors declined to file charges against Shelton in that case, county records show, though they acknowledged “there may have been other reasonable options available” to him instead of killing Thomas.
The union representing L.A. County sheriff’s deputies urged the public to allow for a thorough investigation before coming to any final conclusions.
“This was obviously a tragic outcome, an outcome attributable to a violent and highly volatile situation in that apartment that night,” Richard Pippin, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs said in an emailed statement Friday.
“Our deputy found himself faced with a woman who threatened to stab someone and was then poised, knife in hand, to carry out that threat. This video exemplifies the profound challenges and no-win situations our deputies frequently face. The true motives of groups or individuals who jumped out with outrageous assertions before even seeing the video should be apparent to everyone.”