Jury Clears Santa Barbara Deputies in Fatal Shooting of Cameron Ely

Sheriff Brown Hails Decision to Award No Damages to Ely Family

Ron Ely, center, has lost his lawsuit against the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office over the death of his wife, Valerie, and their son, Cameron. | Credit: Courtesy (from file)

It took a Los Angeles jury less than a day of deliberating to find four Santa Barbara Sheriff’s deputies did not act negligently or use excessive force when they fatally shot Cameron Ely in 2019 at his family’s Hope Ranch home hours after he had stabbed his mother, Valerie, to death.

The surviving members of the Ely family —Tarzan actor Ron Ely and his daughters, Kaitland and Kristen — had filed a federal lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office last November. They alleged Cameron, who was covered in blood but unarmed during his confrontation with deputies, did not pose an imminent threat when he was shot 22 times at close range. Pointing to audio recordings of the incident, the family also disputed the deputies’ accounts that Cameron announced he had a gun and lunged at them before they opened fire.

“I am pleased that the jury unanimously found in favor of the deputies and the Sheriff’s Office, and that they awarded no damages whatsoever in this case,” said Sheriff Bill Brown. “We respect the jury’s decision, which was the proper one. Although we recognize that this was a tragic situation, and have great sympathy for the Ely family, the use of deadly force against Cameron Ely was justified and lawful under the circumstances.”

District Attorney Joyce Dudley had previously determined the shooting was a justifiable homicide. “When Ely disobeyed verbal commands by deputies, sprang to his feet, and moved his hands to his waistband as if grabbing a weapon while saying, ‘I have a gun!’ shortly after killing his mother, his actions created a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury in the minds of [the deputies],” she stated in her report.

Dudley’s report also noted that 30-year-old Ely, who was 6’5″, weighed 236 pounds, and played football for San Marcos High School and later Harvard University, was suffering from the early stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death. His sisters told detectives his behavior had become increasingly “erratic” and “unstable” in the days leading up to their mother’s murder, but no clear motive for the killing was provided. Valerie was stabbed seven times in the chest, back, and right forearm, an autopsy found. Ron, 81, was home at the time and confined to a wheelchair after a recent stroke.

The verdict saved Santa Barbara County and its Sheriff’s department from what could have amounted to a multimillion-dollar payout to the Elys. “We in the Sheriff’s Office commend the superb work of the assigned members of the Santa Barbara County Counsel’s Office, and appreciate the service of the judge and jury members who were assigned to this trial,” said Brown.

It is not known if the Ely family plans to appeal the verdict. Their attorney, DeWitt Lacy, did not provide a statement by press time. Lacy had also argued in the lawsuit that the deputies failed to render timely medical aid to Valerie when they first responded to the scene and to Cameron after he was shot. The jury disagreed on that point, as well.

Three of the four involved deputies remain employed by the Sheriff’s Office. The fourth, Jeremy Rogers, who participated in two previous fatal shootings, left the department in 2021 and now lives and works as a real estate agent in north Texas. 

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