A Series of Lies: Ely Family Denounces DA for Clearing Deputies in Fatal Shooting

Kaitland Ely Sweet (speaking) and Kirsten Ely have accused Santa Barbara law enforcement of attempting to cover up the unlawful killing of their brother Cameron. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss title=
Kaitland Ely Sweet (speaking) and Kirsten Ely have accused Santa Barbara law enforcement of attempting to cover up the unlawful killing of their brother Cameron. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.

By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

One year to the day after their brother Cameron Ely ― the son of Tarzan actor Ron Ely ― was shot 22 times by Santa Barbara Sheriff’s deputies, Kirsten Ely and Kaitland Ely Sweet and their attorneys held a tearful news conference in the driveway of the family’s Hope Ranch home to forcefully rebuke a new report by the District Attorney’s Office that ruled the shooting a justifiable homicide.

Cameron, who was unarmed when he was killed, was the prime suspect in the stabbing death of the siblings’ mother, Valerie, earlier that evening on October 15, 2019. Law enforcement officials claim Cameron announced he had a gun, then lunged at the deputies during their confrontation at the property.

The Elys and their attorneys dispute that narrative, arguing Cameron was attempting to surrender to the four deputies with his hands raised when they opened fire without reason or warning. The Elys claim the deputies then lied to investigators, and that the District Attorney’s Office is now complicit in the alleged cover-up. They point to an audio recording of the incident that directly contradicts the deputies’ statements and the District Attorney’s report, which relied solely on an internal Sheriff’s Office investigation. The family has since filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county that also claims the deputies failed to give timely medical aid to Valerie when they responded to the scene.

“As we grieved our mother and brother over the past year, we were 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 DA’s Office,” said Kirsten as she trembled and read from prepared remarks. “The audio recording is conclusive proof that the statement that the DA released saying the shooting was justified is nothing more than a series of lies strung together to protect the deputies from their actions and to conceal the truth of what really happened to Cameron.”

Kaitland struggled to speak as she remembered her 62-year-old mother, “a real-life fairy godmother,” and her 30-year-old brother, a gifted athlete and musician who “had the most contagious laugh” and “gave the best hugs.” Cameron had the word “veritas,” Latin for “truth,” tattooed on his back, Kaitland said, “which was illegible when he arrived at the coroner’s office because it had been shot through so many times by the deputies.” “We urge everyone to listen to the truth,” she went on. “Listening to the audio only takes 19 seconds, and then you will know the truth, too.”

Attorney DeWitt Lacy, a well-known Los Angeles litigator who specializes in police misconduct cases, played the audio recording for members of the media. He illustrated how three of the main points made in the District Attorney’s report to portray Cameron as a threat to the deputies ― that they ordered him to the ground, that he announced he had a gun, and that the deputies commanded him to remain on the ground when he reportedly started to lunge ― cannot be heard at all.

Attorney DeWitt Lacy said police shootings are an American problem, not a racial problem. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

District Attorney Joyce Dudley has blamed the omissions on equipment failure, saying the microphones worn by the deputies didn’t capture those particular statements. Lacy challenged that assertion, noting other dialogue is clearly audible just before and right after the shooting. None of the deputies’ body cameras were turned on at the time.

Moreover, Lacy said, the few brief moments in the tape between when the deputies first approach Cameron and the explosion of gunfire erupts simply don’t allow for that supposed series of events ― orders given, Cameron complying, Cameron then saying he has a gun, Cameron then not complying, deputies restating their orders ― to have occurred.

“There was no time for what law enforcement alleges happened to have happened,” Lacy said. “It’s just not possible. The rendition that they’ve cooked up doesn’t pass muster, and they have to be held accountable.”

Scott Roder, a forensic specialist working with Lacy’s team, said Dudley’s attempt to explain away the missing sound as a technical issue just doesn’t make sense. “Microphones don’t work that way,” he said. “You can’t pick up one thing and not something else from a few feet away.” The shooting occurred when Cameron and the deputies were standing within 10-12 feet of each other, Lacy said.

For too long, Lacy declared, unlawful police killings have only been considered a problem for black and brown communities. “I’m here to tell you today that this is an American problem that we all have to join together to do something about,” he said.

Attorney John Burris, who leads the civil rights law firm Lacy is a member of, said the statements made by Santa Barbara authorities shouldn’t be taken at face value. “Our view is we ought not accept their official position without some corroboration, and there is no corroboration whatsoever,” he said. “That is the basis for the lawsuit.”

Attorney John Burris demonstrates where Cameron Ely allegedly stood in the home’s driveway with his hands raised when he was shot. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Even if the deputies had good reason to believe Cameron had murdered his mother, Burris went on, they weren’t legally allowed to shoot him if he didn’t pose an immediate threat to their lives. “You can’t summarily execute someone because you think they committed a crime,” he said. Burris theorized one deputy may have been spooked by some movement of Cameron’s and squeezed off a round, creating a chain reaction of gunfire among the others in a phenomenon known as a “sympathetic shooting.”

Lacy further discussed during the hour-long news conference how deputies allegedly ignored their own training and protocols when they failed to help Valerie upon arriving at the house. “They stepped over her as if she wasn’t there,” he said. Forty minutes passed before paramedics were allowed inside the home and declared her dead. Valerie’s most serious stab injury was to one of her lungs, Lacy said. “Certainly, it’s a devastating wound, but one that someone can live from if they receive the appropriate medical aid.”

The Ely sisters said they can’t help wonder if their mother could have been saved if the deputies had intervened sooner. “Our hearts break every time we think that the simple acts of checking her pulse, administering CPR, or immediately calling medics could have given us back our mom and allowed our father many more years with the love of his life,” said Kirsten.

Kirsten said the family had an inkling something was amiss when detectives stopped communicating with them only two weeks after the incident. They waited a year in “agonizing confusion” for some kind of update on the investigation. It was only when they obtained the recording through their civil complaint did they realize their instincts were correct. “Things were even worse than we imagined,” Kirsten said.

Neither authorities nor the family has provided a clear motive for Valerie’s murder, though a coroner’s report noted Cameron, a Harvard graduate who reportedly suffered from mental health problems and was living with his parents, had been acting erratically and aggressively in the days prior. Ron Ely, 81, was home at the time of the killing, confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak after a recent stroke.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Bill Brown went after the Elys and their attorneys for staging the press event while their lawsuit is still pending. “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,” he said. “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.”

Dudley had no comment on the family’s accusations other than to say she would “carefully consider any new evidence that I am provided.”

The lawsuit remains in the discovery phase and no hearing dates have been scheduled.


 October 15, 2019: Wife and Son Killed in Tarzan Actor's Hope Ranch Home

 October 29, 2019: Officers Identified in Shooting of Unarmed Hope Ranch Murder Suspect

 August 27, 2020: One Santa Barbara Deputy, Five Violent Deaths

 September 30, 2020: 'Tarzan' Actor Ron Ely Sues Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office Over Family Deaths

 October 6, 2020: District Attorney Finds Officer-Involved Shooting of Tarzan Actor's Son Justified 

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Monitor Oct 17, 2020 02:25 AM
A Series of Lies: Ely Family Denounces DA for Clearing Deputies in Fatal Shooting

Seems like plaintiffs didn't address the central issue - who killed Valerie? We haven't been made privy to details like the forensics - was Valerie's blood on Cameron? Near impossible to stab someone many times and not have that evidence. Plaintiffs have raised legitimate questions about Sheriff's response, but we should not overlook the basic fact that someone murdered Valerie, for which the Sheriffs are clearly not responsible.

RHS Oct 16, 2020 06:24 PM
A Series of Lies: Ely Family Denounces DA for Clearing Deputies in Fatal Shooting

I have a hard time watching this family. They seem to have all the style and affectations and expectations of power that the Trumps give off. Have they ever been involved in defending or even attending to the plight of the less powerful who have been wronged by police actions? If they have a case it should proceed but this blatant appeal to public judgment for their special cause is not productive.

monkeyboy Oct 18, 2020 02:25 PM
A Series of Lies: Ely Family Denounces DA for Clearing Deputies in Fatal Shooting

They are old Hollywood and have lived a life in the spotlight, cultivating an image. In reality, they are a great family and wonderful neighbors and requiring a lifetime of service to your particular political cause just so they can attain justice for their murdered son is just asinine.

doulie Oct 17, 2020 02:08 PM
A Series of Lies: Ely Family Denounces DA for Clearing Deputies in Fatal Shooting

Wow! RHS, aren't you a piece of work:) Why do you believe this family is not sincere? Members of this family express their concerns regarding the death of two family members during a contact with deputy sheriff's and this leads you believe they have "expectations of power?" What does it matter whether or not they dealt with people less fortunate than them that have been wronged by police? I'm pro law enforcement but it appears the Ely's may have a case due to the manner (reported up to this time) in which this call was handled. What is the families "special cause" you refer to? The Ely's are doing no more or less than most people experiencing these unfortunate circumstances might do. My error, they are doing less. They are not causing others to riot, burn, steal and destroy property of others because of this incident. I can only guess the whining, hollering, rioting and thefts (you) might be committing if this incident involved a family of color on the lower east side. You truly do not make a lot of sense. Then again, this is a symptom of people truly in the grip of TDS, ignorance, or both.

sfgac055 Oct 16, 2020 03:34 PM
A Series of Lies: Ely Family Denounces DA for Clearing Deputies in Fatal Shooting

The Ely's are a lovely family and Valerie truly was a real life fairy godmother, as Kaitland described. She deserved SO MUCH better from the SBSO. Even if she'd expired by the time they arrived, the decent and right thing to do would have been to properly determine that was so. Really hoping these women get some sort of closure ....

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