Ron Ely sues county, Sheriff’s personnel in death of wife, son
A federal wrongful death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of “Tarzan” actor and Hope Ranch resident Ron Ely in connection with the October 2019 death of his wife, Valerie, and son, Cameron.
An initial lawsuit was filed last summer. An amended complaint, obtained by the News-Press, was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The complaint alleges violations of the Fourth and 14th amendments, civil rights, state law and the state Tort Claims Act.
Named as defendants are multiple members of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and Santa Barbara County.
The lawsuit specifically named the deputies involved in the shooting of 30-year-old Cameron Ely, including Sgt. Desiree Thome, Deputy Jeremy Rogers, Deputy Phillip Farley and Deputy John Gruttadaurio.
Around 8 p.m. Oct. 15, 2019, Cameron called 911, requesting emergency personnel to the residence at 4141 Mariposa Drive in Hope Ranch, “because his mother, Decedent Valerie, 62, was attacking his father,” the lawsuit states.
“The call abruptly ended before dispatchers could ask questions.”
When dispatch called back, Ron answered — though he was “unable to clearly communicate with dispatchers” due to medical difficulties. The lawsuit notes that he attempted to respond verbally multiple times.
The lawsuit states that Ron was “crying and expressing painful emotion,” and that an unidentifiable female voice, presumed to be Valerie, was heard in the background indicating she was alive during the second call.
“Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Dispatch incorrectly aired to responding deputies that the caller had reported that his father was attacking his mother,” the lawsuit states. “They further aired that upon calling back they heard only heavy breathing and crying.”
Deputies were dispatched to the scene, though medical personnel were not dispatched, the lawsuit reads.
The deputies arrived around 8:15 p.m. and “immediately found” Valerie lying on the floor of the dining room, having suffered from multiple stab wounds. The lawsuit claims that the deputies did not know, and failed to check, if Valerie was alive when they arrived.
Valerie was “obviously in need of immediate medical care,” but medical personnel were not on scene.
The lawsuit claims that the deputies “actively obstructed” county fire personnel from providing treatment and that Valerie “was left on the floor without any medical treatment or care” for more than 30 minutes.
She was pronounced dead at 8:42 p.m., the lawsuit states.
Around 9:40 p.m., Cameron was seen walking down the driveway from the backyard with his hands up. The lawsuit cites dashboard footage, which allegedly showed the deputies instructed Cameron to “keep his hands up,” though they did not ask any questions or announce they were with the Sheriff’s Office.
Cameron approached and was bleeding from his lower body and was suffering from a torn MCL and meniscus. Deputies later determined Cameron had been stabbed multiple times, and a deputy was heard on the dashboard recordings asking for gloves before contacting Cameron due to the blood, the lawsuit states.
“Suddenly, without any warning or legal justification,” multiple deputies opened fire and struck Cameron 22 times, according to the lawsuit.
The shooting occurred less than 20 seconds after Cameron was seen walking around the corner “with his hands up, the universal act of surrender,” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiff claims the deputies “negligently assessed the circumstances that existed prior to the shooting” and that Cameron was “unarmed, nonviolent and acting calmly during the entirety of the short encounter.”
It continues, “there was no reason for Defendant Deputies to use any force, especially deadly force,” against Cameron.
The lawsuit said that Cameron “was left to bleed out in the driveway” for more than 13 minutes before medics were permitted to assess him.
Ron Ely was transported to a nearby hospital before the shooting. Deputies notified Kaitland Sweet and Guardian ad Litem Kirsten of the incident, and both traveled to the hospital to be with their father.
While there, two detectives told the women that Ron told deputies prior to the shooting that Cameron had stabbed Valerie and fled to justify the use of force. The detectives said that Cameron died as a result of the shooting.
The lawsuit says the detectives claim “was not a true statement, but a purposeful and/or grossly negligent misrepresentation” to conceal the deputies’ errors.
The detectives also said the deputies’ body cameras did not capture the incident and were turned off “to preserve the battery life” of the recorders, the lawsuit states.
The plaintiff alleges that the Sheriff’s Office “breached their duty of care” by not disciplining the deputies. Further, the lawsuit claims the Sheriff’s Office acted in concert while engaged “in a repeated pattern and practice of using excessive, arbitrary and/or reasonable force” and failed to address the victims who were suffering from serious medical needs.
Ron Ely, who starred as the title character of “Tarzan” (1966-68 on NBC), is represented by DeWitt M. Lacy with The Law Offices of John L. Burris. Mr. Lacy specializes in police misconduct cases.
A review of the shooting remains under investigation by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office. A criminal investigation is also ongoing.
Following the shooting, the Sheriff’s Office said that Cameron “posed a threat” toward the deputies. Authorities later confirmed Cameron was not armed at the time of the shooting.
Raquel Zick, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, told the News-Press that, as a policy, the Sheriff’s Office does not comment on pending litigation.
The plaintiff is seeking a jury trial and relief for compensatory, general, special and punitive damages and other costs.