In the early hours of March 28, 2019, a Williamson County, Texas, sheriff’s deputy gave chase to Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old former postal worker who failed to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Within half an hour, Ambler had died in police custody after officers deployed their Tasers four times during his arrest. The entire incident was caught on film by a crew from A&E’s Live PD reality show, the Statesman reported.
For more than a year after Ambler’s death, local media and investigators claim police failed to release details into Ambler’s death despite their demands. Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody has been criticized for partnering with the Live PD reality show and, according to the Statesman, investigators say both Chody and the show’s producers “have repeatedly stonewalled their efforts to obtain evidence or interviews with the officers involved.”
On June 8, the Austin Police Department released body camera footage of the arrest that led to Ambler’s death, according to CNN. The footage is from an APD officer who arrived at the scene after Williamson County deputies were already struggling with Ambler.
According to the Statesman, the footage shows deputies Zachary Camden and J.J. Johnson yelling at Ambler to lay on his stomach and put his hands behind his back. Ambler repeatedly tells the officers, “I have congestive heart failure,” and “I can’t breathe.” Officers then deploy the Taser for what turns out to be a fourth and final time before Ambler’s body goes limp and the officers realize he’s unconscious and has no pulse. Ambler was pronounced dead roughly an hour later, at 2:37 a.m., according to the Statesman.
Ambler’s Case Is Expected to Go to a Grand Jury This Summer, According to the Travis County District Attorney
According to police reports, when Ambler passed by with his brights on, Johnson turned on his siren and began to pursue Ambler. Ambler didn’t stop, and the deputy chased Ambler’s vehicle for roughly 22 minutes, according to the Statesman.
Over the course of the pursuit, police reports claim that Ambler hit four stationary objects before crashing a final time. According to the Statesman, Johnson then commanded Ambler to get down before stunning him with a Taser. A second Williamson County deputy, Camden, arrived on the scene and shoved his Taser into Ambler’s back, according to the internal investigation reported by the Statesman. As the officers continued to struggle to arrest Ambler, a 400-pound former football player, one of the officers deployed a Taser for the third time, the Statesman reported. A member of the Austin police department also arrived at the scene.
The Statesman reported that an internal investigation conducted by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department concluded that the deputies did not do anything wrong in the arrest and subsequent death of Ambler. According to the Statesman, the Texas attorney general’s office ruled Ambler’s death a homicide, noting that the homicide might have been “justifiable.” The Texas AG also concluded that Ambler did not verbally threaten or attempt to assault the deputies, nor did he attempt to take their weapons. The most serious charge he would have faced in court was evading arrest, a low-level felony with a maximum 10-year sentence, the Statesman reported.
Because the arrest occurred in Austin, the Austin Police Department is investigating Ambler’s death with the Travis County district attorney, according to the Statesman. Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore expects to take the case to a grand jury alongside an additional officer-involved death sometime this summer, the Statesman reported.
The Williamson County Commissioners Issued a Lawsuit Against Sheriff Robert Chody for His Persistent Involvement With “Live PD”
Both Johnson and Camden were accompanied by film crews for the A&E cop reality-TV series Live PD during the arrest and death of Ambler. According to Moore, the footage obtained by Live PD has not been turned over to her office. According to USA Today, Live PD destroyed the footage. USA Today reported that Moore has accused Chody of stonewalling her investigation and three out of four Williamson County commissioners have called for Chody to resign.
“The citizens have lost faith in him,” Williamson County Commissioner Russ Boles said. According to USA Today, Chody responded, saying, “The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department remains ready and willing to participate in the investigation being conducted by the Travis County DA’s office.” Chody added, “However the Travis County DA’s office has not contacted us for any reason related to this investigation. Any attempt to say we have slowed or impeded the investigation is absolutely false.”
In August 2019, Chody was ordered by the court to suspend the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office contract with Live PD. According to a lawsuit filed against Chody in May, the sheriff independently resumed the contract without permission from the commissioners. USA Today claims the contract was initially terminated in part because of the lack of access to evidence gathered by the film crews.
“Sheriff Chody doesn’t need live TV to do his job, but he didn’t like losing the spotlight,” said the law firm that issued the lawsuit. “More concerned about show business than sheriff business, Sheriff Chody went behind the Commissioners’ backs and secretly and illegally tried to re-contract with the show.”
Chody is running for reelection this year against Mike Gleason, a former chief deputy of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office whose priorities include mental health initiatives, civil rights and thorough training standards, according to his campaign website.