Law firm holds press conference to ‘set the record straight’ in 2019 fatal shooting
One year after the deaths of Valerie and Cameron Ely, members of the Ely family were joined by their attorneys at their Hope Ranch estate on Thursday calling for the District Attorney’s Office to revisit its investigation that cleared the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies involved.
Kaitland and Kirsten Ely each shared heartfelt letters to their late mother and brother, with Kirsten explaining that the family has been grieving and have been unable to pick up the pieces “due to the intentional deception, ineptitude and disregard for human life demonstrated by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, and the conspiratorial obstruction of truth and outright lies put into print by the Santa Barbara D.A.’s Office.”
The Ely family has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Santa Barbara County, the Sheriff’s Office and the four deputies involved who shot and killed Cameron. Kirsten said the suit is aimed at holding the deputies accountable for their actions and inactions that caused the deaths, with the lawsuit alleging that proper medical care was not provided in a timely manner during the Oct. 15, 2019 incident.
The Ely family has not been in contact with the Sheriff’s Office since Oct. 29, 2019 — some two weeks after the shooting, Kirsten said.
“Their silence forced action on our part and, only after filing the suit, we were able to gain access to their autopsies, the Coban audio recordings from each deputy’s mic, and body cam footage. It was this new information that told us that our instinct that something had gone terribly wrong was correct,” she said. “Things were even worse than we had imagined.”
Kaitland referred to her late mother as her “best friend” and is heartbroken that she will not be able to hold her newest granddaughter named in her honor. She added that Cameron was “a source of strength” for the family during times of need and expressed sorrow that his life was “tragically cut short” at the age of 30.
“Your passings were preventable, which makes the pain even deeper,” she said. “We will fight in honor and preserve your legacy of light, love and truth.”
The Ely women spoke following remarks from the family’s attorney, DeWitt M. Lacy, a civil rights attorney with the Law Offices of John L. Burris. Mr. Burris also gave remarks, as did Scott Roder, of Evidence Room, who conducted and presented analysis of the bullet trajectory in the fatal shooting.
Mr. Burris said that Thursday’s press conference was held to “set the record straight” after the District Attorney’s report found the shooting to be a justifiable homicide.
Mr. Burris did not discuss the criminal components of the investigation that claim that Cameron stabbed his mother to death, but rather focused on the “deception” of Cameron that suggested he was lawfully killed by authorities.
“It is our position that this shooting and death was not the function of lawful activity. We will note that he was shot over 22 times. We have preliminary work here showing that he was shot in the front and the back, multiple times. He was clearly unarmed with no weapon of any kind, and so the justification of that just seems unjustified,” said Mr. Burris.
In the District Attorney’s report, the deputies claimed that Cameron said he had a gun before he was fatally shot and was a “lethal threat” to the deputies. A transcript from Deputy Phillip Farley’s Coban recording system, provided by the plaintiffs on Thursday, did not include such a statement. Mr. Lacy said they have possession of other audio files that do not support the conclusions made by the D.A. or law enforcement.
“They may very well have thought that he was involved in some other activity involving the mom, but that is not a basis to shoot and kill him. You have to have lawful basis to do that, and in this particular matter there was none,” Mr. Burris said.
He suggested that the deputies “panicked,” with one opening fire and the others following suit despite no threats being made by Cameron.
The attorneys have also taken issue surrounding the medical treatment, claiming that Valerie was left unattended for more than 45 minutes, with deputies “stepping over her body like she wasn’t even there,” and that both the bodies were left at the scene overnight before being removed.
Mr. Lacy said that leaving the bodies at the home following the incident was “one of the most egregious displays, in my mind, of malfeasance, that law enforcement can make.”
He said the issues of police brutality are “an American issue” and not just limited to race, and that people need to join together and create change.
“Yes, we expect that these officers will be held accountable,” he said. “Yes, we hope that the DA will actually do an appropriate look at the objective evidence and make sure that they do the right thing.
“Not only to honor the lives of Valerie and Cameron, but all those who are similarly situated.”
A biomechanical illustration was shown that showed the pathway and trajectory of the bullets with a “great matter of certainty,” given what the D.A. and Coroner have reported. Mr. Lacy said that because the Coroner’s Bureau did not “appropriately probe” the trajectory of the bullet wounds that the illustration “cannot be 100% certain.”
The attorneys said 15 shots were fired from the rear into Cameron’s back, which they said came while he was on the ground and while he was not a threat to law enforcement.
“The reason why we don’t have the answers is because law enforcement didn’t take the time to do their job appropriately, and so we are here today,” Mr. Lacy said.
Mr. Roder argued that if Cameron was moving like the D.A.’s report indicates, it would be “impossible” for the bullet trajectory to have occurred.
“What the evidence is indicating is that they have not been truthful in their dissertation of the shooting events that night,” he said. “You cannot be shot on 360 degrees of your body in under three seconds if all the shooters are standing in one position. So what does that mean? That means that they were deceitful in where they said they were standing at the time they discharged their weapon.”
Discrepancies have been noted about the Coban audio recording, with the District Attorney’s Office claiming there was a technical issue that resulted in a mic not picking up any audio from Cameron. Mr. Burris said he doesn’t accept that “because malfunction is not justification to excuse” the deputies’ conduct.
Mr. Lacy said they are still in the early forms of discovery in the case, and is hoping to obtain photos from the scene showing where the bullet cases landed, as well as photos of Valerie that have yet to be provided.
Mr. Roder added that where the casings were scattered will provide “strong evidence” as to where the deputies were during the shooting, explaining that the groupings should provide a more clear indication.
Mr. Lacy said they are also looking to obtain additional audio from one of the involved deputies, and also indicated, as of right now, it is unclear which deputy opened fire first.
“These weren’t just somebody or a name and number, these were their loved ones,” he said. “We’re hoping that we will be able to work with the District Attorney’s Office and the city Attorney’s Office to get the justice that this family so deserves.”
When reached for comment, District Attorney Joyce Dudley referred to her office’s report, published Oct. 5. She later said via email that if any new evidence is presented to her that she would “absolutely carefully consider it.”
Sheriff Bill Brown did not mince words in his statement to the press following Thursday afternoon’s press conference, calling it “undue pretrial publicity.”
“Unlike the plaintiff’s attorneys in this case, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and the County of Santa Barbara takes seriously our professional obligation to avoid undue pretrial publicity about this matter since it is currently in litigation,” the statement read. “It is important to remember that the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ allegations are just that – allegations, not facts. We will respond to these allegations later, and at the appropriate place, the District Court.”