Police crime tape blocks off Mariposa Drive in Hope Ranch.
Police crime tape blocks off Mariposa Drive in Hope Ranch in October 2019 after Valerie Lundeen Ely was murdered and her son was fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Actor Ron Ely has lost a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and four of its deputies, stemming from a 2019 incident in which his wife and son both died.

A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Friday returned a verdict in favor of the county, the Sheriff’s Office and the deputies.

The lawsuit, filed in September 2020, alleged that negligent and excessive deadly force was used during the incident, in which the 84-year-old actor’s son, Cameron Ely, 30, was shot to death by deputies.

The lawsuit also alleged that deputies and sheriff’s dispatchers failed to provide timely medical aid to Cameron Ely and to Valerie Lundeen Ely, Ron Ely’s wife, who had suffered multiple stab wounds prior to the arrival of deputies.

In addition to the county and the Sheriff’s Office, four deputies who fired their weapons were named as as defendants in the legal action: Sgt. Desiree Thome, Special Duty Deputy Jeremy Rogers, Deputy Phillip Farley, and Deputy John Gruttadaurio.

Sheriff Bill Brown provided the following statement to Noozhawk following the verdict:

“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. 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.

“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.”

According to the account provided by the Sheriff’s Office, deputies responded to Ely’s spacious residence on the 4100 block of Mariposa Drive at about 8:15 p.m. on Oct. 15, 2019. They found Valerie Ely, 62, lying on the floor, having suffered multiple stab wounds.

The Sheriff’s Office said deputies quickly determined that she was dead, and identified Cameron as the suspect in the attack.

They began searching for him outside the home and in the neighborhood, and he was located roughly 90 minutes after the initial response.

According to an account provided by Raquel Zick, sheriff’s public information officer, “The suspect told deputies that he had a gun, advanced toward the deputies, and motioned with his hands as if he were drawing a weapon. In response, four deputies fired a total of 24 rounds from their service weapons, fatally wounding the suspect.”

However, Ely’s lawsuit, filed by Los Angeles-area attorney DeWitt M. Lacy, included a narrative that is starkly at odds with the account provided by the Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit contended the deputies had no reason “to use any force, especially deadly force” against Cameron Ely, stating that he was seen walking down the driveway from the backyard, obviously injured, with his hands up.

The lawsuit further alleged that dashboard camera video from the deputies’ patrol vehicles backs up this account.

“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,” the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit further claimed that Cameron “did not make any aggressive movements or furtive gestures, nor did he utter any threats that would suggest he was a danger to the deputies or any other individuals in the area.”

The Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation of the incident, which was forwarded to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

In October 2020, District Attorney Joyce Dudley ruled that Cameron Ely’s death 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 deputies Gruttadaurio and Farley, Sergeant Thome and Senior Deputy Rogers…” Dudley concluded in her report.

Ely’s daughters took strong issue with Dudley’s conclusion, and held a press conference in October 2020 to express their views.

Thome, Farley, and Gruttadaurio remain on duty with the Sheriff’s Office, Zick told Noozhawk on Thursday, but said Rogers is no longer with the department.

Rogers left the sheriff’s ranks in January 2021, according to his LinkedIn page, and now lives and works as a real estate agent in Texas.

The Santa Barbara County Counsel’s Office did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment on the verdict, and Zick said a comment from Sheriff Bill Brown would be forthcoming.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at tbolton@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Tom Bolton, Noozhawk Executive Editor

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at tbolton@noozhawk.com.