Lamont Finlayson called his daughter, Niani Finlayson, on Dec. 1 last year. Finlayson, a 27-year-old Black woman, was living in her first apartment in Lancaster, California. It was the first time she was able to host family members for the holidays.
They talked about Christmas gifts, Lamont told HuffPost this week, and about his plans to get her a car. Three days later, all those plans were cut short.
Niani Finlayson called the authorities on Dec. 4 during a domestic incident, saying her boyfriend would not leave her home. In audio later released by the sheriff’s department from the 911 call, Finlayson can be heard shouting for help.
“He won’t get out of my house, he will not leave me alone, I need the police here right now,” she said.
Finlayson was screaming on the call and repeatedly telling a man to get off her. Bradley Gage, the family’s lawyer, has identified the man as her former boyfriend.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department responded to the call, arriving at the Lancaster apartment complex, some 44 miles outside of Los Angeles. In body camera footage released by the department last week, Finlayson can be seen holding an object that authorities described as a kitchen knife. Finlayson’s 9-year-old daughter appears to tell officers that the man at the home had been pushing her.
Finlayson grabbed the man while holding the knife. She told police she was going to “stab him” because he’d harmed her daughter that evening.
Deputy Ty Shelton fired four shots within seconds of arriving inside, killing Finlayson in front of her daughter.
The sheriff’s department did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement last month, the department referred to a “robust review” process that would determine whether Shelton violated department policies.
Finlayson’s boyfriend was arrested for child abuse and assault on a police officer, but was later released, the department said in a statement.
Lamont Finlayson told HuffPost he believes the shooting was not justified. He now has to care for his two granddaughters.
“It is very hard to do, because how do you explain to children that their mom is not coming back?” he told HuffPost.
Finlayson’s family and lawyers want to know why officers at the scene did not deescalate the situation. Video shows Shelton entering the apartment holding both a stun gun and a firearm.
Lamont Finlayson said he wanted his daughter to live with her two children in Lancaster to avoid volatile encounters with police.
He told HuffPost that Niani aspired to be a nurse, and that she loved her two daughters and her family.
“I thought she would be at peace,” Lamont told HuffPost. “She wanted to live life to the fullest and see me get old. But instead, now I can’t see her get old.”
Gage, a civil rights attorney, filed a claim signaling a $30 million lawsuit in state court, but says the county could move the lawsuit to the federal level, alleging wrongful death. Gage is also demanding the district attorney file murder charges against Shelton.
“When you bring a case like this, a common theme applies: We want to see justice,” Gage told HuffPost. “So often you hear law enforcement talking about some suspect or criminal, and they forget these are human beings with families of their own.”
Nearly four years ago, Shelton killed Michael Thomas, a Black man, also while responding to a 911 call on domestic violence. Thomas and his girlfriend got into a verbal disagreement and Thomas was attempting to stop officers from entering the house, according to police. Shelton shot Thomas in the chest when he arrived.
No criminal charges were filed against Shelton in the encounter, which occurred just weeks after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. No footage of the shooting exists.