Tarzan actor and Hope Ranch resident Ron Ely has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office for the 2019 deaths of his wife, Valerie, and their son, Cameron.
The lawsuit claims that the four deputies who responded to a 9-1-1 call at the Ely residence the night of October 15 neglected to give timely medical aid to 62-year-old Valerie, whom authorities say Cameron had stabbed, and then shot 30-year-old Cameron 22 times as he attempted to surrender to them unarmed with his hands in the air.
“The reprehensible conduct of the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department Deputies was egregious, entirely unreasonable, and, accordingly, unconstitutional,” states the civil claim, which was filed in July and seeks an unspecified amount of punitive damages. Ely is represented by Los Angeles attorney DeWitt M. Lacy, who specializes in police misconduct cases and in recent years has secured high-dollar verdicts and settlements against the cities of Santa Clara, Antioch, and Alameda.
Sheriff’s spokesperson Raquel Zick said the department could not comment on the pending litigation. The incident itself remains under criminal investigation, and the District Attorney’s Office review of the shooting is ongoing, as well.
One of the active-duty deputies involved, Jeremy Rogers, has now been sued three times in connection with the deaths of five Santa Barbara County residents. His two previous cases were settled by the county for a combined $5.5 million.
The Ely lawsuit relies on 9-1-1 transcripts and an audio recording of the shooting for its allegations, and it contradicts many of the public statements made by the Sheriff’s Office in the days following the incident. It notes none of the deputies had their body cameras turned on at the time of the shooting. The Independent obtained a copy of the audio recording through a public records request.
According to the lawsuit, Cameron Ely called 9-1-1 at approximately 8 p.m., asking that deputies be sent to his family’s home at 4141 Mariposa Drive because his mother was attacking his father. The call then abruptly ended.
Dispatchers tried calling Cameron back, the suit says. Ron answered instead. Due to an existing medical condition, Ron could not verbally communicate with the dispatchers. They heard him crying and trying to speak. “An unidentifiable female voice, presumed to be Decedent Valerie, was heard in the background of this call indicating Decedent Valerie was alive when the second call occurred,” the filing says.
Sergeant Desiree Thome, Deputy Jeremy Rogers, Deputy Phillip Farley, and Deputy John Gruttaduario arrived at the house 15 minutes later. They found Valerie on the floor of the dining room with multiple stab wounds to her chest. “Defendant Deputies did not know, and failed to check, if Decedent Valerie was alive when they arrived,” the suit states. Medical personnel were then allegedly blocked from entering the home for over 30 minutes, and by the time they reached Valerie at 8:42 p.m., she was pronounced dead.
An hour later, at approximately 9:40 p.m., the deputies had congregated outside in the driveway when they saw Cameron walking from around the back of the house and down the driveway towards them. The lawsuit notes, and the audio recording confirms, the deputies ordered Cameron to “keep” his hands up, indicating his hands were already raised as he approached.
Cameron was bleeding from several stab wounds to his lower abdomen, the lawsuit says. It is not made clear if he had been attacked or if his injuries were self-inflicted. He was also suffering from a torn MCL and meniscus in his right knee. In the recording, one of the deputies asks for gloves. Cameron was covered in blood. “Keep your hands up, okay?” a deputy gently tells him. “Keep your hands up.”
“Suddenly, and without any warning or legal justification, multiple Defendant Deputies opened fire on Decedent Cameron, striking him a total of 22 times with bullets from several department issued weapons,” the claim states. “The shooting occurred less than 20 seconds after Defendant Deputies saw Decedent Cameron walk around the corner with his hands up, the universal act of surrender.”
Sheriff’s officials have publicly claimed that Cameron announced to the deputies that he had a gun, “advanced” towards them, then “motioned with his hands as if he were drawing a weapon.” None of those assertions are reflected in the recording.
Cameron was left to bleed to death for 13 minutes before medical personnel were allowed to assess him, the lawsuit says. “Decedent Cameron was unarmed, nonviolent, and acting calmly during the entirety of the short encounter. He did not make any aggressive movements or furtive gestures nor did he utter any threats which would have led a reasonable Sheriff’s deputy to believe that he posed a risk of death or serious bodily injury to anyone.”
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors discussed the case this Tuesday in a closed-session meeting. County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni declined to comment on the content of that meeting or any of the allegations in the lawsuit. “[The County Counsel’s Office] generally does not comment about ongoing litigation,” he explained, “particularly when plaintiffs have requested a jury that might be exposed to pre-trial publicity.”
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