2 former Texas sheriff’s deputies indicted in connection with Javier Ambler’s death
AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas grand jury indicted two former Williamson County deputies Monday in connection with the death of Javier Ambler II, a Black man who died during an arrest two years ago, according to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.
Former deputies James Johnson and Zachary Camden were indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter, a news release from the district attorney’s office said. The men posted bail, which had been set at $150,000 each.
“With these indictments, we have taken another critical step towards justice for the Ambler family and for our community,” said District Attorney José Garza. “While we can never take away the pain of the Ambler family, the grand jury has sent a clear message that no one is above the law.”
The indictments come a little more than two years after Ambler, 40, died following a vehicle pursuit on March 28, 2019. The Austin Police Department released body camera footage of the incident in June 2020, which showed Ambler saying “I have congestive heart failure,” as well as “I can’t breathe,” several times before he became unresponsive.
Ambler’s cause of death was congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity, “in combination with forcible restraint,” according to the custodial death report from the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The manner of death was homicide, according to the custodial death report.
The grand jury found both men to have “recklessly” caused the death of Ambler by using a Taser on him, physically retraining him, pinning him down and handcuffing him after he said multiple times he could not breathe and had a health condition, according to the indictment.
The same grand jury heard evidence related to an Austin Police Department officer’s involvement in Ambler’s death and declined to press charges, according to the news release.
Attorneys for Johnson and Camden said their clients did not cause Ambler’s death.
“Mr. Ambler’s physical exertion in resisting the three officers it took to get him into handcuffs no doubt contributed to his medical emergency, but Mr. Johnson and Mr. Camden are neither morally nor legally responsible for his death,” attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell said in a statement.
Ambler’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit
The body camera footage of Ambler’s death came about two weeks after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — an incident in which Floyd similarly said he couldn’t breathe during his arrest.
Since the video’s release, the case has seen a two other officials investigated in connection with Ambler’s death.
A grand jury indicted Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour in September for tampering with physical evidence. The indictment alleged Chody and Nassour acted to “destroy or conceal a record, document, or thing; namely, video recordings and audio recordings, with intent to impair their availability as evidence in the investigation.”
Chody denied the charge after his arrest in September. Nassour declined to comment at the time.
Further investigation into the incident found that additional video from the A&E reality show “Live PD,” which accompanied officers on the chase. The district attorney announced in June 2020 that Williamson County employees had been in touch with the show, which has since been canceled.
A&E has said the footage never aired and that the network and its producers were never “asked for the footage or an interview by investigators from law enforcement or the district attorney’s office.”
Dan Abrams, who formerly hosted the show, told CNN in June there was a policy in place for the show to destroy footage after a certain period of time. He said the video was retained for three months per the request of Williamson County while they investigated the incident. He told CNN Williamson County officials told him the investigation was over and “that was the last anyone from ‘Live PD’ had heard about the video.”
In October, Ambler’s family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Williamson County, saying Chody allowed the A&E show to film his officers at work because he “believes that Live PD helps his department recruit officers, and has made it an essential component of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department.”
A&E was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
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