John Burris, the attorney for Ely and his family, contradicted a report by the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office during a news conference Thursday, saying that Ron’s son Cameron Ely never claimed to have a gun before deputies opened fire in the 2019 confrontation. Burris said Cameron surrendered with his hands up.
An investigation found that Cameron, 30, stabbed his mother, 62-year-old Valerie Lundeen Ely, to death before he was shot outside his father’s home in Hope Ranch, a suburb of luxury homes outside Santa Barbara, California.
The district attorney’s report said Cameron told deputies he had a gun and that he moved his hands as if he were grabbing a weapon.
The deputies fired 24 rounds at Cameron. When the officers searched Cameron after he was dead, they found in his pockets such items as playing cards, small rocks, a car key fob, an iPhone, crumpled papers, a bank card and a plastic bag with a substance that later tested positive for cocaine, but no weapons.
“When (Cameron) 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 four deputies),” the district attorney’s report concluded.
The report further stated that “each of the deputies acted reasonably in his/her use of deadly force; therefore, the shooting of Cameron Pierce Ely is a justifiable homicide.”
Last week, no charges were filed against the deputies who shot and killed Cameron.
But Burris said Thursday the deputies “engaged in the unjustified use of deadly force.”
“If he didn’t have a gun or he didn’t have a weapon, what was the basis of shooting him?” Burris said. “They may have very well thought he was involved in some other activity involving the mom. But that’s not a basis to shoot and kill him. You have to have a lawful basis to do that.”
The night of Cameron’s and Valerie’s deaths on Oct. 15, 2019, Ron Ely, now 82, was not injured but was unable to tell authorities what happened due to his inability to speak clearly following a stroke.
Ely and his two daughters have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against Santa Barbara County, the Sheriff’s Office and the four deputies, alleging civil-rights violations in connection with the “unjustified use of deadly force and denial of medical care, resulting in the deaths of Cameron Ely and Valerie Lundeen Ely.”
The lawsuit, filed last month, claims the sheriff’s dispatchers gave deputies responding to a 911 call from the house conflicting information about who stabbed whom. The lawsuit also claims the deputies shot Cameron 90 minutes after arriving at the house, and failed to allow emergency personnel to render aid to both Valerie and Cameron as they lay dying.
“The reprehensible conduct of the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department deputies was egregious, entirely unreasonable, and, accordingly, unconstitutional,” the lawsuit says.
Although the district attorney’s report states that Cameron stabbed his mother, it does not offer a motive. It concludes he must have been the assailant because his father was too frail and debilitated to do so and Cameron was the only other resident of the home.
The report says the responding deputies quickly concluded Cameron was the assailant and was still at large. They searched the sprawling and dark property near the ocean, including with a canine unit, but found no one.
When they eventually encountered Cameron in a dark pathway on the side of the house, they were terrified he had “trapped” them and would shoot them, the report said, despite spotting a knife wound on Cameron’s neck. The report did not explain how Cameron got the knife wound.
Ron Ely’s lawsuit claims the shooting occurred less than 20 seconds after deputies saw Cameron walk towards them with his hands up, “the universal act of surrender.” He was unarmed, calm and made no threats, according to the lawsuit. “There was no reason for defendant deputies to use any force, especially deadly force, against Cameron,” the lawsuit says.
Ely, who is still unable to speak according to his lawyer, is best known as the star of the NBC series “Tarzan,” which debuted in 1966 and ran for two seasons. He also hosted the Miss America pageant between 1980-81.
His most recent acting credit was in 2014, when he appeared in the Lifetime drama “Expecting Amish” opposite Jesse McCartney and Disney Channel alums Alyson Stoner and AJ Michalka, according to IMDb.
Contributing: Maria Puente, USA TODAY; Associated Press