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Actor Ron Ely sues Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office over deaths of wife and son

Actor Ron Ely and his wife, Valerie, in 1992 in Los Angeles.
Actor Ron Ely and his wife, Valerie, in Los Angeles in 1992.
(Ron Galella / Getty Images)

Former “Tarzan” actor Ron Ely has accused the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office of wrongfully killing his wife and son, according to a federal lawsuit.

The Sheriff’s Office responded to a disturbance call at the family’s Hope Ranch home on Oct. 15, 2019. Deputies contacted Ely at the home and found his wife, 62-year-old Valerie Lundeen Ely, dead inside with multiple stab wounds, authorities said at the time.

Deputies identified the Elys’ 30-year-old son, Cameron Ely, as the suspect and found him on the property outside. After determining that he posed a threat, the deputies fatally shot him.

Ron Ely, star of the 1960s TV version of the Tarzan story, alleges in the lawsuit that sheriff’s deputies used “excessive and unreasonable” force when shooting Cameron Ely and knowingly denied both Valerie and Cameron Ely of timely medical treatment, resulting in their deaths.

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Raquel Zick, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said she could not comment on cases that involve pending litigation. An internal investigation is ongoing while the district attorney conducts a criminal investigation into the case, she said.

“It’s not that we don’t have something to say,” Zick said. “We’re unable to comment.”

A woman was killed at the Hope Ranch home of former ‘Tarzan’ actor Ron Ely in the Santa Barbara suburb, authorities say.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. Central District Court in July and amended Sunday, states that Cameron Ely called 911 to report that his mother was attacking his father. The call ended abruptly.

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When dispatchers called back, Ron Ely answered the phone but could not communicate clearly “due to medical difficulties,” the suit says. His cries and a woman’s voice in the background were discernible, it says.

However, dispatchers incorrectly told responding deputies that the caller said his father was attacking his mother, according to the lawsuit.

The suit states that arriving deputies — identified in court records as Desiree Thome, Jeremy Rogers, Phillip Farley and John Gruttaduario — found Valerie Ely on the dining room floor with multiple stab wounds.

“Deputies did not know, and failed to check, if Decedent Valerie was alive when they arrived,” the suit says.

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Medics were not immediately dispatched, the suit says, and when first responders from the fire department arrived, deputies prevented them from entering and giving her medical attention for over 30 minutes.

The lawsuit says dashboard camera video indicates that Cameron Ely held his hands up when he approached deputies in the driveway over an hour and a half later. Deputies suddenly opened fire at him while he was bleeding and, it was later determined, also suffering from multiple stab wounds.

“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 states. “Defendant Cameron was unarmed, nonviolent, and acting calmly during the entirety of the short encounter. Decedent 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.”

Deputies also prevented medics from attending to Cameron Ely, who was bleeding to death in the driveway, for over 13 minutes, according to the lawsuit.

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“By the time anyone was allowed to assess Decedent Cameron or Valerie, both had already succumbed to their injuries and died.”

Rogers, one of the deputies involved in the case, came under scrutiny earlier this year when the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper published a report detailing how he was involved in three fatal shootings on the job, including that of Cameron Ely.

Zick, the sheriff’s office spokeswoman, confirmed that Rogers is still active with the agency. Though the Ely case is still pending, Zick said Rogers’ previous actions were “deemed within policy and … noncriminal.”

“All of those actions were justified,” she said.

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The lawsuit alleges that the Sheriff’s Office failed to properly discipline Rogers, contributing to “an entrenched culture” of allowing “improper detentions and arrests, the use of excessive and/or deadly force, and the failure to treat the serious medical needs of Santa Barbara County citizens.”

Cameron Ely attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and went on to Harvard University in 2007, where he played quarterback for the football team. Records show that he was licensed as a security guard in the two years before his death.

Valerie Lundeen Ely was a former beauty queen who won the Miss Florida pageant in 1981. She and Ron Ely had three children together.


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