Austin, TX — Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old postal worker, was on his way home from a friendly poker game when he allegedly made the mistake of failing to turn off his brights when passing another vehicle. This is something everyone who is reading this article has likely done at some point in their life. However, because Ambler drove past a Williamson County sheriff’s deputy, an hour later, he'd be dead.
Because the officers who killed him were not held accountable, relatives of Ambler filed the excessive force complaint this week. According to the NY Daily News, the 29-page lawsuit lays out in chilling detail how Ambler, a 400-pound former high school football player who suffered from a heart condition and obesity, ended up dead in the custody of Williamson County Sheriff’s Deputies JJ Johnson and Zachary Camden on March 28, 2019.
Ambler was killed last year and investigators with the Williamson County sheriff's department investigated themselves and determined that the deputies did not violate the agency's pursuit or use-of-force policies. This was in spite of the fact that Ambler's death was ruled a homicide.
The lawsuit claims the deputies' boss, Sheriff Robert Chody, had a “permissive chase policy” that encouraged officers to pursue people “until the wheels fall off.”
It also says Chody “encouraged officers to use excessive force when they were being filmed by ‘Live PD,’” to increase the entertainment value for the reality show.
As the News reports, it says one of Chody’s officers, Deputy Jarred Dalton, confirmed Chody’s alleged directives when he tweeted about his ride-alongs with “Live PD,” saying, “Glad we could make some good TV for the boss man,” and “Gonna try to get some good stuff stirred up for y’all tonight.”
Though the officers who killed Ambler were not held accountable, a Williamson County grand jury indicted Sheriff Robert Chody for felony evidence tampering in Ambler's death. According to court documents, Chody is accused of destroying video recordings and audio recordings in the investigation into Ambler's death "with the intent to impair their availability as evidence in the investigation, "KVUE reports.
Chody was booked into the Williamson County jail and released shortly after on a $10,000 bail. Adding to the conspiratorial nature of the case is the fact that Jason Nassour, the attorney for Williamson County, was also booked on the same charge for allegedly tampering with the same evidence.
As TFTP reported earlier this year, Live PD reportedly destroyed all footage of Ambler's death at the hands of police. The indictments stem from an independent investigation launched by media with the KVUE Defenders and the Austin American-Statesman jointly after they both confirmed in June that the footage was destroyed.
Jeff Edwards of the Edwards Law Group, who is representing the Ambler family, released the following statement in regards to the charges:
"Today, we learned that a reason for the slow pace of justice in this case is that Sheriff Chody allegedly acted to destroy video evidence of Mr. Ambler’s death. It seems the sheriff was more interested in being part of a reality television program and providing entertaining video content than protecting the lives of the Black citizens he was sworn to protect. If true, such shameful behavior by a law enforcement leader is striking evidence that there needs to be a sweeping, systemic overhaul of our system of policing."
As we reported at the time, Ambler's last moments alive were captured on police body camera footage as well as footage from the crew from A&E’s reality show “Live PD.” He never resisted, posed a threat to cops, or attempted to attack them, yet he was thrown to the ground, repeatedly tasered, and the air squeezed from his body until he fell unconscious and died.
The incident began as Deputy J.J. Johnson, who is regularly featured on “Live PD,” passed Ambler and allegedly saw him fail to dim his brights. So, the deputy targeted Ambler for extortion and subsequent murder.
For unknown reasons — likely due to the fact that he was scared of what the police may do, or did not want to be extorted — Ambler did not stop. He led police on a chase for over 20 minutes. The cops stayed behind him because it is in their job description to extort, kidnap, and in this instance, kill people over failing to turn down your brights when passing another vehicle.
The chase came to an end when Ambler crashed his vehicle.
As the Statesman reports:
Johnson, who had no backup at the time, drew his gun and ordered Ambler to get out of his car, raise his hands and get on the ground. Ambler, a 400-pound former football player, got out and showed his hands. Johnson, who is black and about half Ambler’s size, holstered his gun and pulled out his Taser.
“Get down!” Johnson repeated several times.
When Ambler appeared to turn toward his car door, Johnson used his Taser, according to an internal investigative report the Statesman obtained under the Texas Public Information Act. Ambler fell on one knee, rolled onto his back and stomach and acted as though he was trying to stand.
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Moments later, multiple officers are pushing down on the man's body as he begs them to stop, telling them he had congestive heart failure.
“I have congestive heart failure,” Ambler says. “I have congestive heart failure. I can’t breathe.”
Despite the man posing no threat whatsoever, cops continue to yell stop resisting as Ambler repeats, "I can't breathe," each time getting softer as the breath leaves his lungs.
“I am not resisting,” Ambler cries. “Sir, I can’t breathe. ... Please. ... Please.”
Deputies, clearly ignorant to the fact that Ambler is unable to put his hands behind his back because of his size and health condition, keep yelling at him to do so, while delivering more taser strikes to 400 lb former football player.
“Save me,” Ambler cries.
“Do what we’re asking you to do!” a deputy yells.
“I can’t,” Ambler says, These would be his last words, just before an officer tasers him for the fourth time.
After the taser, Ambler goes completely unconscious. In spite of no longer moving, the officers still yell at him to "get your hands behind your back and stop resisting."
After cuffing the unconscious man, they realize he stopped breathing, was unconscious, and had no pulse. Moments later, he'd be pronounced dead.
As the Statesman reports, a death-in-custody report filed with the Texas attorney general’s office — a procedure required anytime a person dies in police custody — said Ambler did not attempt to, nor did he assault deputies; he did not verbally threaten others nor attempt to get control of any officers’ weapons.
Basically, the entire application and escalation of force was unnecessary.
We will never know why Ambler didn't stop that night, but he had committed no other crime. The most serious charge he would've faced would've been failing to stop for police. And he died for it.
This man was pursued, pulled out of his car, thrown to the ground, repeatedly shocked, and the air squeezed from his lungs until he died, because he allegedly failed to dim his headlights.
“It is of very serious concern to any of us who are in law enforcement that the decision to engage in that chase was driven by more of a need to provide entertainment than to keep Williamson County citizens safe,” said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.
Indeed. It appears that Johnson initiated a dangerous and deadly chase over something as petty as flashing one's brights, all so he could make the producers happy at LIVE PD, who consistently put him on the air.
Perhaps there is something in the LIVE PD video that shows police never should have pursued Ambler in the first place, and perhaps, that is why it was destroyed. Now, however, it is there word against Ambler's estate. Below is the full police body camera footage from that night.