Texas sheriff arrested for tampering with evidence in police custody death

If convicted, the sheriff could face up to 10 years in prison.

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Accused of concealing police body cam footage from investigators attempting to review the death of an unarmed man in police custody, a Texas sheriff was recently arrested on a felony charge of tampering with evidence. Although the A&E reality show “Live PD” also recorded the incident, the tapes were destroyed before prosecutors could see them.

In March 2019, a Williamson County sheriff’s deputy attempted to pull over Javier Ambler for failing to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic. Instead of pulling over, Ambler initiated a 22-minute police pursuit that ended after he crashed his SUV for a fifth time.

Ambler exit his vehicle with his hands in the air, as Deputy J.J. Johnson fired his Taser at him for not getting down on the ground after being repeatedly ordered to. Lying on the ground with the officers trying to cuff his hands behind his back, Ambler, who weighed 400lbs, kept telling the deputies that he couldn’t breathe and had congestive heart failure.

Because of his size, the deputies required a second set of handcuffs in order to secure Ambler’s hands behind his back. Despite the fact that Ambler appeared to be in medical distress, one of the deputies fired his Taser again before cuffing Ambler’s wrists.

Less than a minute later in the police body cam video, the cops realized that Ambler was no longer breathing and did not have a pulse. After the deputies removed Ambler’s handcuffs, EMTs later transported Ambler to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Even though the A&E show “Live PD” recorded the arrest and Ambler’s death in police custody, the producers destroyed the videotapes of the incident before prosecutors could view the evidence. In a statement, A&E said, “Video of the tragic death of Javier Ambler was captured by body cams worn on the officers involved as well by the producers of Live PD who were riding with certain officers involved. The incident did not occur while Live PD was on the air but rather during the show’s hiatus, when producers are regularly out in the field gathering footage. The footage never aired on Live PD per A&E’s standards and practices because it involved a fatality.

“Immediately after the incident, the Austin Police Department conducted an investigation using the body cam footage they had from the officers. Contrary to many incorrect reports, neither A&E nor the producers of Live PD were asked for the footage or an interview by investigators from law enforcement or the District Attorney’s office. As is the case with all footage taken by Live PD producers, we no longer retained the unaired footage after learning that the investigation had concluded.”

Medical examiners listed Ambler’s cause of death as congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity “in combination with forcible restraint,” according to an in-custody report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s office. The report added that he did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of his death.

In June, the police body cam footage was finally released to the public. On Monday, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was arrested and indicted on a third degree felony charge of tampering with evidence in relation to the death of Javier Ambler.

According to Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office refused to provide evidence, including the footage of Ambler’s death while in police custody.

On Monday afternoon, Jeff Edwards, one of attorneys for the Ambler family, released the following statement: “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 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, systematic overhaul of our system of policing.”

Shortly after the indictment was announced, Sheriff Chody issued the following statement while referring to his upcoming reelection: “[Williamson County District Attorney Shawn] Dick wants to influence this election. He wants to join the chorus of folks who are attempting to undermine law enforcement, strip them of funds, and make our neighborhoods unsafe.”

Chody added, “From the beginning, the Ambler incident has been hampered by prosecutors failing to act, and then attempting to pass off responsibility for their inaction to others. In fact, it was only after the body cam video of the Ambler incident was released to the public that the Travis County DA began to move on the case.”

If convicted, the sheriff could face up to 10 years in prison.

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